Diverting drywall from dumps

Drywall is causing a real stink at Ottawa's dumps.

More than 28,000 metric tonnes of the scrapped wallboard ends up in landfills each year – from demolitions and new construction projects – decomposing and producing dangerous hydrogen sulphide gasses.

The “rotten egg” smell is bad enough, says Renee Gratton, a director on the Canada Green Building Council, but it's also an unnecessary health and environmental threat. Gratton along with colleague Guy Beaudoin are spearheading an industry-driven drywall recycling initiative to help clean up city dumps and make the building process more sustainable in the process.

With any luck, it could also work out to be cheaper.

“We are at a crisis point,” said Gratton, also the principal of green building company RG Integration. “The ability to recycle drywall has been available for some time. The question has always been 'Why can’t we do it in Ottawa?'

“It's one of these fabulous services available that we aren’t taking advantage of.”

Gratton and the CaGBC have ambitious goals. First, they'd like to set up a transfer station to collect drywall from construction sites and transport it to a recycling facility in Oakville, Ont.

They'd also like to push new municipal regulations that will impose strict bans on drywall at landfills and require large projects to recycle gypsum – the primary mineral in drywall – thereby creating a market for recycled material.

Strange as it may sound, the building industry's waste currently finds its way into farmers' fields. Gypsum is often processed and used as fertilizer.

Several communities in Canada including Vancouver, Toronto and Peterborough, Ont. have already moved to ban drywall at landfills and are making very specific plans for its eventual use.

“We don't want to just ban it from landfill and have it go somewhere else,” said Gratton.

The City of Ottawa already has a plan to divert drywall from dumps – along with other products like clean wood, asphalt shingles and organics – by 2015. But that's not good enough, said Gratton; with dwindling landfill space and mounting environmental concerns, it’s time building professionals started looking for a sustainable solution sooner.
“We’ve agreed to . . . write a specification that will be kicked around (by stakeholders),” she said, adding that they're currently imploring builders, owners and tenants to use only recycled drywall in their projects.

The biggest hurdle she expects in her campaign: the cost. For all its inconveniences, it currently costs about 25 per cent more to recycle drywall than to throw it away.

Gratton expects those economics will change as drywall is banned thereby forcing the industry to shift its spending to recycled content.

“When you offset the real cost it actually isn't as bad,” said Gratton. “You also have to take into account the environmental cost.”

About the equivalent of four, 53-foot trucks worth of gypsum is being mined, processed and discarded each day, as perfectly re-usable pieces of the popular building material are thrown into garbage heaps across the Nation's Capital.

Garbage dumps – like the one in Carp, Ont. just west of Ottawa currently seeking an expansion – are also a burden to municipalities and affect nearby property values, she said.

Industry Events