Stepping up construction cleanup

Maple Ridge resident Ben Fishman’s Benefits Waste Management company hits 88 per cent recycling rate in pilot MV project.

Ben Fishman of Benefits Waste Management is on leading edge of recycling construction waste. Materials are pre-sorted on to vehicles

Ben Fishman of Benefits Waste Management is on leading edge of recycling construction waste. Materials are pre-sorted on to vehicles

Rethink the business model of construction waste disposal and you can make a buck and help the earth at the same time.

Maple Ridge resident Ben Fishman’s Benefits Waste Management is well on its way to doing that in its third year of scavenging of old wood, drywall and scrap metal and whatever else is reusable from construction scrap heaps, and keeping them out of the dump in Cache Creek.

“Our recycling rates are absolutely unprecedented,” he says.

He makes that claim based on data collected during a pilot renovation project earlier this year, done in cooperation with Metro Vancouver. With the regional government continually trying to pare down its solid waste, Fishman showed that 88.7 per cent of construction waste produced during the renovation of a home can be saved from the dump.

At previous jobs, Fishman used to manage construction waste and was in charge of loading the refuse bins and found out first hand that recycling was a rarity.

“But recycling wasn’t a concern. I sort of developed my ideas, not happy with what I’d seen.”

So he started separate cardboard and metal and take it to recycling centres before dumping the rest of the container at waste transfer stations.

Usually, when a construction project starts, either from a new project, a total tear down or just renovation, all the junk, the old wood, doors and whatever are dragged out and piled on to the lot or dumped into a bin, often to be hauled to the landfill once it is filled up.

Under the Benefits Waste system, the stuff is sorted as it’s removed and loaded on to his modified pickup trucks, then hauled directly to recyclers.

There’s no need for a scrap heap or a waste bin, a factor the neighbours like.

While more manpower is required initially, the payoff comes when disposing of the trash because lower fees are charged for dropping off recyclables.

Wood and lumber are taken to Urban Woodwaste Recyclers in New Westminster, where it’s ground up and used as fuel for Lafarge Cement plants.

Drywall or plaster, depending on the variety, is either taken to New West Gypsum Recycling or used as a road base.

Because of those lower dumping fees for recycling, Fishman can compete with conventional waste removal firms that pay more to tip unsorted waste.

“They [construction companies] get the warm and fuzzy feeling of recycling and not having a bin.”

On new construction projects, his company achieved a 75-per-cent recycling rate for construction waste on two projects, a 91-unit townhouse and a 20-unit townhouse.

When it comes to recycling renovations, it is easier if you’re completely demolishing a house. “That’s why we can step in because we’re separating everything as we load it on to the trucks.”

Despite rising fees to dump unsorted garbage, recycling is still not the norm in the industry. And Metro Vancouver’s garbage dumping fee or tipping fee of $96 a tonne, though it’s steadily rising, still isn’t enough incentive to get construction companies to change their practices.

“A lot of them that I pitch to … they say it’s nice, ‘but until we have to, we’re not going to bother.’ “

“If anything, the fuel costs are more significant than tipping fees – the rise in fuel.”

Unsorted construction waste of all types continues to be dumped into a nearby landfill, he added.

“Maple Ridge is one of the worst places,” he said, citing a local landfill where all types of construction waste is just trucked in and buried.

After working for a few of those companies, he started his own, buying his first pickup truck from his former employer. He now has three trucks.

“It’s a bit of a gamble, like any business, you start up. It’s a bit of dry spell financially.”

But he’s made a small profit in the first two years. And working with Metro Vancouver and the Home Builders’ Association has allowed him to document his achievements and get an early start in that stage of the business.

Fishman points out that the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program for green buildings sets a target of recycling 50 per cent of construction waste, while he’s regularly reaching 75 per cent.

He’d like to see recycling targets increased and incentives given to contractors who hire recycling firms to collect the waste.

“It’s not really a big deal. It’s slowly becoming a big deal  We’re just a couple of years ahead of the curve, I guess.”