Waste Not, Want Not

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sustainability is based on a simple principle: “Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.” With that tenant in mind, Balfour Beatty recognized sustainability as a core company value and driver of our people-first culture. Balfour Beatty project teams across the nation and around the world have made great strides toward sustainability, a key component of which is waste diversion.

According to an EPA study, the construction industry produced 600 million tons of construction and demolition (C&D) material in 2018. This is more than twice the amount of waste that homes, schools, hospitals and businesses combined produced in the same year. 

These C&D materials include steel, wood products, drywall and plaster, brick and clay tile, asphalt shingles, concrete and asphalt concrete. Were this waste to be directed entirely to landfills, the environmental impact would be significant, as well as the impact on the rapidly dwindling landfill capacity. The encouraging news is, of the 600 million tons of waste generated in 2018, only 145 million was directed to landfills. 

But what about the other 455 million? The industry successfully designated that waste for “next use,” a process by which debris is processed (ground, crushed, melted, etc.) and later incorporated in the manufacture of new materials and products. In 2021, Balfour Beatty successfully diverted 30 percent of our construction waste into recycling centers across the U.S. Through C&D waste recycling facilities, debris may be processed for fuel, manufactured products, aggregate, compost and mulch or soil amendment. 

Plus, these numbers don’t encompass many of the other recent advancements the construction industry has made toward reducing waste. The increased adoption of prefabrication and modular construction has the potential to significantly decrease the amount of waste that projects typically generate. Some contractors also utilize deconstruction as a method of reuse, a process which includes carefully dismantling buildings and repurposing materials in a new build. 

Diverting this C&D waste away from landfills and reducing overall waste is beneficial in more ways that those generally associated with reuse, such as lowering our carbon footprint and reducing toxic gas emissions. Reduction and reuse can also:

  • Create jobs and economic opportunities
  • Reduce overall building and project expenses
  • Offset some of the environmental impact associated with extraction and consumption of virgin resources and production of new materials
  • Conserve landfill space

Across our U.S. and global operations, Balfour Beatty is committed to protecting and enhancing our planet and societies. “We know that we have an opportunity to impact the amount of waste from our projects that get diverted from a landfill to be recycled and repurposed,” says Keith McCoy, senior vice president of national safety. “Through off-site prefabrication and partnering with waste removal companies that utilize recycling centers, we have been able to significantly reduce the amount of waste we are sending to landfills.”

This accomplishment is the result of the commitment and passion of our teammates and industry partners. Two of our projects in Texas and Virginia set the bar for successfully diverting waste while achieving the objectives of our clients and surrounding communities. 

Strickland Middle School – Denton, TX

Our Strickland Middle School Addition and Renovation project for Denton Independent School District (DISD) in Denton, Texas embodies how sustainability and historical preservation can come together to achieve a positive impact and beautiful result. Originally constructed in 1968, Strickland had undergone several additions before Balfour Beatty broke ground on the project in 2019. 

Although a portion of the school was slated for demolition, the owner wanted to preserve the auditorium. Their reasoning was twofold: the auditorium was a centerpiece of the building due to its central location on campus and its use by the school’s vibrant performing arts programs, and no other middle schools within the DISD system possessed a similar space for band concerts, plays and other school and community events. Secondly, the space held an emotional attachment for the school and larger community, none of whom wanted to see the auditorium removed completely. 

To achieve this goal, Balfour Beatty worked closely with the owner to keep the structure while performing an interior remodel. As a nod to the original 1968 auditorium, the project team also preserved the end standards of the old metal seats to be refinished and reused in the completed project. 

Education projects often rely on of the use of portable classroom buildings during active construction to eliminate learning disruptions for teachers and students. Rather than purchasing new portable classrooms, our team simply repurposed classrooms from another project we had recently completed in DISD. This lowered costs and ensured that these materials received an important new life and purpose. 

This project was also an example of a mutually beneficial trade partnership that helped achieve sustainability goals. Our demolition partner, Precision Demolition, recycled all available concrete, brick, steel and light gauge materials. Recycling allows trades to keep their pricing competitive, because they often receive some funds from waste treatment facilities in return for recycling these materials. By partnering with Precision, our team ensured C&D waste was recycled without an additional time add.

In 2021, the Strickland Middle School Addition and Renovation project diverted an impressive 3,718 tons of waste from landfills. 

Hoffman Town Center – Alexandria, VA

At the Hoffman Town Center project in Alexandria, Virginia, the team’s commitment to sustainability paid off in a big way. This $300 million joint venture project with Walsh Construction includes five floors of garage space, three residential towers and a retail base, totaling 980,000 square feet of mixed-use space.

From the outset of the project, sustainability was top of mind for the owners and project team, and they established a lofty goal of recycling at least 75 percent of project waste as well as reducing the project’s carbon footprint. This required meticulous tracking of waste in both pre- and post-consumer material. The team also focused diligently on-site cleanliness and housekeeping to limit the amount of debris inadvertently produced.

In addition to reducing and recycling C&D waste, the team also placed an intentional focus on sourcing local and regional materials. By doing so, they reduced transportation materials and truck emissions. This also served to stimulate the local economy. 

The project is slated for completion in September 2022, and the team is currently on track to surpass their recycling goal, with 80 percent of project waste recycled. They anticipate receiving LEED® Gold certification by the end of 2022. 

In 2021, the Hoffman Town Center project successfully diverted 2,141 tons of waste from landfills.

These projects are just two examples of many of how Balfour Beatty is leaving a positive legacy for the people we work with, the communities we work in and the world in which we operate. With the diligent efforts of our project teams and trade partners, we can be an industry leader in moving the needle on waste reduction.