State Updates Requirement to Reduce Waste from Construction and Demolition Projects

On January 1, 2017, the 2016 California Building Standards Code went into effect, including an updated edition of the California Green Building Standards Code, otherwise known as CALGreen.  One of the most notable changes in the 2016 edition of CALGreen is a new statewide requirement that at least 65 percent of waste from new construction and demolition (“C&D”) projects be recycled and/or salvaged for reuse.  Before this latest update, CALGreen had a less stringent 50 percent C&D diversion requirement.

According to the California Building Standards Commission, construction debris makes up about 27 percent of the waste stream in California.  CALGreen’s increased C&D diversion requirement is a smart way to help eliminate this waste and its associated environmental harms, since it will keep more debris out of landfills and encourage material resource efficiency through reuse and recycling of construction waste products.

What Projects Have to Comply with the C&D Diversion Requirement?

CALGreen’s C&D diversion requirement applies to both residential and non-residential projects that require a construction or building permit from a local agency.  It also applies to residential additions and alterations of existing buildings where the building’s conditioned area, volume, or size increases. There are no thresholds for compliance, such as square footage or estimated project cost, but there are limited exceptions for excavated soil and land-clearing debris, and alternate waste reduction methods may apply where adequate facilities to which the debris can be diverted do not exist or are not located reasonably close to the jobsite.  Local agencies may also make exceptions when isolated jobsites are located in areas beyond the hauling boundaries of diversion facilities.

How Do Projects Comply with the C&D Diversion Requirement?

CALGreen outlines three methods of compliance for the C&D diversion requirement. 

First, owners/builders of construction projects can comply with the C&D diversion requirement by developing and submitting a construction waste management plan to the city or county permitting the project before construction begins.  The plan should identify the C&D waste materials to be diverted from disposal by recycling, reuse on the project, or salvage for future use or sale.  It should also specify if the waste materials will be sorted on-site (source separated) or bulk mixed (single stream).  The plan should identify both the diversion facilities where the waste materials will be taken and the construction methods employed to reduce the amount of waste generated.  In addition, the plan should specify that the amount of waste materials diverted will be calculated either by weight or by volume, not by both.

As a second option for compliance, owners/builders of construction projects may utilize a waste management company, approved by the enforcement agency in their jurisdiction, that can provide verifiable documentation that the percentage of C&D waste material diverted from the landfill meets CALGreen’s 65 percent requirement.

Finally, some owners/builders may comply with the C&D diversion requirement via a disposal reduction alternative, which deems certain types of projects to have satisfied the C&D diversion requirement if the amount of waste does not exceed specified thresholds.  This alternative method of compliance is available for low-rise residential projects that generate a total combined weight of waste that does not exceed 3.4 pounds per square foot of the building area, and non-residential and high-rise residential projects that generate a total combined weight of waste that does not exceed 2 pounds per square foot of the building area.

What Steps Should Local Jurisdictions Take Now?

CALGreen’s C&D requirement is effective statewide and does not require jurisdictions to adopt a separate local C&D ordinance if they do not already have one.  Jurisdictions that previously adopted their own C&D debris regulations, however, may need to revisit those regulations to ensure they are consistent with the new statewide standard, if they have not already done so.  For example, a city that previously adopted a local C&D ordinance in keeping with the 2013 edition of CALGreen, which required at least 50 percent C&D debris diversion, will need to amend its ordinance to reflect the new statewide minimum of 65 percent.

At the same time, CALGreen does permit local jurisdictions to adopt more stringent ordinances with a higher C&D diversion requirement than 65 percent.  Thus, a city may adopt or amend an existing C&D ordinance to require an even greater diversion rate, and owners/builders of construction projects in those jurisdictions would have to comply with the more stringent regulations.

Local jurisdictions should inform stakeholders about these changes in some manner and consider including information on their websites about the new requirement, as needed.  Local jurisdictions should also be aware that California has a policy goal to divert at least 75 percent of all types of solid waste from landfills by 2020 through source reduction, recycling, and composting.  CALGreen’s updated C&D diversion requirement is one important step towards achieving that goal, and cities can continue to think creatively about other policies they might implement to further help the state reduce waste.

The California Building Standards Commission has developed a helpful guidebook and other reference materials regarding the C&D diversion requirement and CALGreen in general, which are available here.

For more information, contact SMW attorney Catherine Malina.

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