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The Construction & Demolition Recycling Association is taking on drywall recycling challenges

The Construction & Demolition Recycling Association is taking on drywall recycling challenges

Recovering and reusing drywall has long been a challenge for the C&D recycling industry. Questions about how to recycle this material are fielded regularly by the Construction & Demolition Recycling Association (CDRA) from both the public and government officials, as everyone wants to see this ubiquitous product recovered. When sent to a construction material recycling facility, mixed in with other C&D debris, drywall breaks up into small pieces or into smaller fines material, which can create challenges.

C&D fines, usually about 3-inch or less, are an unavoidable byproduct of processing construction materials into usable end products, because of modern demolition techniques that mainly use excavator attachments to break down buildings at the job site. Material then bounces around in the back of a truck on its way to the recycling centre. About 30 percent of the output from a C&D recycling plant consists of fines created from this process, and the most common end market has been as alternative daily cover (ADC) for landfills.

However, when not handled or applied properly at the landfill, hydrogen sulfide gas can develop, and that rotten egg smell does not go over well with any facility's neighbours. Besides ADC, alternative end markets for C&D fines include soil enhancement and the cement industry.

Still, an overall lack of sustainable end markets is a major challenge for drywall recyclers, especially for post-consumer demolition drywall. Because of concern over contaminants, most government agencies do not allow recycling of this type of material. In British Columbia, however, it is allowed, and CDRA Sponsor Member New West Gypsum has long been able to not only recover gypsum, but process it efficiently and to high enough standards so that it can very effectively  be used in the production of new drywall.

B.C. and New West Gypsum are rarities. Most of North America allows only construction cut-offs to be recycled, and markets are limited almost everywhere. While closed loop recycling of drywall is far from common, there is currently some pressure on drywall manufacturers to find ways to create them more often. 

Recently, there has been a big push to recycle more drywall. Most recently, in response to the industry's increasing needs, the CDRA has established a new Gypsum Recycling Committee made up of all stakeholders in the recovery of wallboard, from manufacturers and contractors to processors and end markets.
Initial goals of this committee include:

  • Creating a drywall diversion policy to develop clear definitions on what types of wallboard can and should be recovered and marketed back to manufacturers, with the goal of creating more closed loops.
  • Developing end product specifications that recyclers have to meet in order to sell recovered material back to drywall manufacturers.
  • Creating best management practices for contractors and processors.
  • Working with drywall companies to set post-recycled content rates for new drywall.
  • Promoting the fact that recyclers must be third-party certified, using a program developed to an ISO level, so accurate diversion rates can be obtained, and promoting the fact that drywall manufacturers should use a similar certification program to demonstrate the recycled content of their products.
  • Defining specifications for other end products made from recycled drywall.

The committee will also be updating the CDRA's current Gypsum Recycling Protocol to reflect these actions, and the CDRA's website at Any CDRA member can become a part of this committee, which met for the first time, virtually, on January 19. 

Challenge accepted, drywall recycling.

Jason Haus is CEO of Dem-Con Companies, Shakopee, Minnesota, and is a past president of the CDRA.

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