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updated 5/26/2004 4:00:36 PM ET 2004-05-26T20:00:36

Everyone is familiar with recycling paper and plastic, but how about concrete and bricks?

Faced with dwindling landfill space and high construction costs, more cities, states and developers are joining a "rubble" recycling wave. When feasible, they are incorporating the wreckage of demolished structures into new building projects rather than carting away the old building's remnants. And when they can't reuse the ruins, they are recycling them _ in some cases, making money selling off the old copper, steel, concrete and other material that's in high demand and short supply.

For the past four months in Richmond, Va., giant crusher machines have been pulverizing large chunks of concrete from two laboratory facilities demolished last year. Rather than truck 12,750 tons of broken concrete to a local landfill, the state is using it to level the site's surface, where a $19 million, 1,500-car parking structure will be built. The state is sending the remaining debris _ some 1,250 tons of asphalt, steel and other material _ to local recycling facilities.

Despite the extra time and effort to sort the material, Virginia officials estimate the state is saving more than $485,000 by selling off the steel, copper and other recyclable metals and reusing the concrete debris, which eliminated the need to buy and transport new gravel to the site. The state's effort also helps the environment by reducing the material dumped in landfills and by saving fuel that would have been used to haul materials to and from the site. And it's good for the state's image, as well. "Government needs to lead the way by example," says Richard Sliwoski, director of engineering and buildings at Virginia's general-services department.

Rubble recycling is getting a big shove from state and municipal governments enacting laws aimed at reducing the amount of waste going to landfills, specifically debris from construction and demolition projects, among the biggest sources of solid waste. Massachusetts is moving toward banning construction and demolition debris, including asphalt, brick, concrete, metal and wood from its landfills. Florida legislators have been considering taking action aimed at increasing the recycling of construction material and waste.

Under a program begun nearly three years ago, the city of San Jose, Calif., requires contractors to put up a recycling deposit before they can get a building permit for most commercial and residential projects. Contractors must prove they have diverted at least half of the construction and demolition debris from their building project from landfills to get their deposit returned. San Jose officials have certified nearly a dozen disposal facilities that have agreed to recycle at least 50 percent of the construction material they receive.

Commercial demolition projects, where the steel and concrete can be easily recycled, typically are charged a lower deposit than a residential kitchen-remodeling project, where roofing, carpeting, appliances and other materials are not as easily recycled. The deposits range from 10 cents to $1.16 a square foot depending on the type of project.

"The purpose is to divert as much construction waste from burial as possible," says Stephen Bantillo, who manages San Jose's program, which helps the city surpass a state of California mandate requiring all cities and counties to divert 50 percent of their waste from landfills. Mr. Bantillo says San Jose diverted about 62 percent of its waste through recycling and reuse of materials in 2002, the latest figure available.

In the neighboring city of Santa Clara, Calif., Santa Clara University and Sobrato Development Corp. are demolishing two concrete research-and-development buildings on a 13.6-acre site to make way for a 1,500-seat baseball stadium and a 306-unit apartment complex. Santa Clara University owns the land but was leasing the property to Sobrato, which built and owned the R&D buildings.

About 25 percent of the 25,000 tons of crushed concrete from the demolished buildings will be reused to pave the site's surface and as fill for the new concrete. Moreover, a portion of the 1,250 or so tons of asphalt torn up from the site will pave a parking lot. The remainder of the concrete and asphalt, as well as the reinforcing steel from the buildings, will be recycled, says Joe Sugg, assistant vice president of operations at the university.

Mr. Sugg estimates that the school, which hired a demolition and engineering company to do the work, and Sobrato are saving about $60,000 to reuse the material on the site and recycle the rest. "The reuse of material is not only good for the environment, but there's a monetary reward to it," he says.

New York-based Rockefeller Development Corp. is about to embark on a demolition and construction project in Cranbury, N.J., in which three outdated industrial buildings will be knocked down and replaced with a 685,000-square-foot distribution center. Glenn Muleucis, an assistant vice president at Rockefeller Development, says that for the first time in his nine years there the company plans to reuse the concrete slabs, brick and other masonry on the site by crushing the material to stone for grading, laying utilities and building roads and driveways. Mr. Muleucis estimates the recycling will prevent at least 70 percent of the demolition debris from ending up at the dump and may save as much as $300,000.

With older buildings that may contain asbestos, lead paint or other contaminants, the reuse and recycling of material "is not cost-feasible," says Russ Hubbard, director of business development at Ferma Corp., the Mountain View, Calif., demolition company Santa Clara University hired. But Mr. Hubbard estimates that the reuse and recycling of materials from a demolition site, even when factoring the sorting involved, costs at least 5 percent less than hauling and dumping the material and buying new gravel.

Still, some say that taking construction and demolition debris to the dump remains, for the most part, the least expensive way to dispose of such material. Recycling and reuse typically means "paying a premium," says James Abadie, a senior vice president at Lend Lease Corp.'s Bovis construction-management unit in New York. Because of that, he says, only those developers and companies that are using so-called green building techniques are interested in reusing demolition debris or recycling excess construction material.

All the excess construction material and debris generated at the downtown Manhattan site where Related Cos. is developing a 24-story, 264-unit environmentally friendly apartment building will be recycled _ except for food waste generated by construction workers, says Mr. Abadie, whose company is managing the project.

(Bovis also was in charge of the cleanup at Ground Zero; Mr. Abadie says that steel from the World Trade Center's columns was sold off as scrap metal to recyclers, with the rest of the debris going to a landfill on Staten Island. "There was very little left" beyond the steel and dust, Mr. Abadie says.)

Battery Park City Authority, a public-benefit corporation created by the New York state legislature to develop a 92-acre landfill in downtown Manhattan, owns the Manhattan site being developed by Related and is requiring the developer to use the authority's green building guidelines. Those guidelines include such things as recycling at least 75 percent of the construction waste generated at the project, using construction materials with recycled content and those that were manufactured within 500 miles of the site.

"A typical private developer in New York City wants the lowest price and couldn't care less if the debris ends up in someone's backyard," says Mr. Abadie. But when Bovis deals with that typical developer, some of the debris may end up being diverted from the dump. Mr. Abadie says his company has a policy of using, whenever possible, companies that make some effort to recycle at least some debris.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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