Constructing a More Sustainable World

The University of Rochester diverts waste away from landfills by reducing, reusing and recycling. Yet, in 2015 the majority of University recycling did not come from paper, plastic, glass, or metal. Instead, asphalt and concrete made up the bulk of materials recycled. The reason? Construction.

Although projects vary from year to year, construction and demolition material can account for a significant part of the University’s recycling. In fact, according to the University’s 2015 Year-End Waste Stream Diversion Report, University construction projects made up 70 percent of all diverted material. In 2015, construction alone accounted for over 7,000 tons of materials recycled, which was a record-breaker for the University of Rochester own recycling data. Paper and cardboard (including confidential document shredding) accounted for over 1,600 tons, or 15 percent, of materials recycled. The remaining 15 percent was a variety of items, including plastic, metal, organics, ink cartridges, cooking grease, furniture, medical equipment, and electronics. The weight of the materials recycled explains the disparity in recycling results. As reflected in the data, materials recycled from construction, such as asphalt and concrete, quite literally weigh tons.

This difference in weight and variability of projects can make diversion data including construction somewhat misleading. Since 2012, the University of Rochester’s overall waste diversion rate excluding construction has hovered around 27 percent (currently 38.8 percent on the River Campus and 20.7 percent at the Medical Center).  However, diversion rates containing construction material from the past three years increased the overall rate to numbers ranging between 30.6 percent to 54.5 percent. Construction waste actually doubled the 2015 waste diversion rate from 27.3 percent without construction to 54.5 percent including construction!

Photo Credit: Scott DeHollander. A construction worker embarks on a dig project in which repairs were made to a steam condensate pipe.
Photo Credit Scott DeHollander. A construction worker embarks on a dig project in which repairs were made to a steam condensate pipe.

New building construction projects, such as Golisano Children’s Hospital and Wegmans Hall, can generate a great amount of recycled material. Dig projects conducted by Central Utilities & Energy Management can also produce high tonnages of asphalt and concrete. In such dig projects, an area of the earth is removed to gain access to the infrastructure beneath it. Typical University dig projects perform repairs on utilities such as steam, water, or storm and sanitary sewer systems. Due to the landscape of the University, many of its utilities run under asphalt, concrete, or landscaped areas.

Once excavated, asphalt is sent to an area asphalt plant for reuse. Excavated concrete is stockpiled by University of Rochester contractors, crushed into smaller pieces, and reused in other construction projects. Earthen material, like sandy or clay soil, is returned to the site of the dig.  Central Utilities & Energy Management dig projects over the course of last year resulted in over 3,700 tons of material recycled.

Since materials from these digs would otherwise end up in landfills, Utilities Distribution Manager Scott DeHollander, P.E., says recycling the material is an “absolutely better alternative”.  He goes on to say, “In the case of asphalt and concrete these are basic building materials that if handled properly can be used over and over again there is no reason to purposely discard.”

DeHollander is proud of every dig Central Utilities & Energy Management completes because “the distribution group is focused on maintaining the utilities at the highest level, minimizing impacts and operating in a responsible footprint.”


Written by Darya Nicol, class of 2016

8 Replies to “Constructing a More Sustainable World”

  1. Thanks for sharing with us such a mind-blowing post. I am really impressed with the information you have provided. Keep up the good work.

  2. It is important that we make environmentally conscious choices. I love that you are reusing your asphalt and concrete, great idea – thanks for sharing!

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