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Managing construction and demolition debris

Construction projects - both building new structures and demolishing old ones - generate a lot of waste. Studies of Wisconsin landfills have found that materials such as wood, shingles and brick or concrete make up more than one-quarter of the waste landfilled in Wisconsin each year.

Diverting construction and demolition materials from landfills

The good news is that many construction and demolition (C&D) materials are highly reusable or recyclable. The bad news is that many of these materials are still going to landfills. Like other recycling efforts, there are more management options for C&D debris that isn't mixed with other waste, so it's important to separate reusable or recyclable materials from other debris when possible.

Materials that can generally be reused, recycled or composted include the following:

  • aluminum siding;
  • architectural antiques;
  • asphalt;
  • asphalt shingles;
  • brick/masonry;
  • carpet;
  • carpet pad;
  • concrete;
  • concrete painted with lead-based paint;
  • gas pipe/metal pipe;
  • porcelain plumbing fixtures;
  • PVC pipe;
  • site clearance vegetative woody debris;
  • steel - structural or rebar;
  • untreated lumber and other wood;
  • vinyl siding; and
  • wallboard/drywall (gypsum).

Some firms specialize in systematically dismantling structures to recover materials in the best possible conditions. Architectural antiques and ornamental stonework are often recovered in this manner as well. New markets are under investigation for other materials, including recycling carpet pad back into new pad, using clean gypsum wallboard as a soil amendment and using shingles in road patch material.

More information on recycling specific materials

Brick and cement block can be recovered for reuse, but more often they are combined with concrete and asphalt and are crushed to form the base for roadbeds and driveways. Excess unpainted and untreated wood lumber can be recovered for reuse as dimensional lumber, but most often it is chipped for use in landscaping and composting. Metals can be marketed to scrap metal dealers.

Regulations to consider when recycling C&D debris

C&D debris is solid waste subject to the provisions in chs. NR 500-538, Wis. Adm. Code. Section NR 500.08 (2)(a) [exit DNR] exempts the disposal location for the following C&D materials from solid waste code requirements, provided the fill is not placed within a floodplain, wetland, surface water environment or critical habitat:

  • brick;
  • broken pavement (concrete or asphalt);
  • building stone;
  • clean soil;
  • concrete;
  • reinforced concrete; and
  • unpainted or untreated wood.

It is illegal to burn C&D materials in Wisconsin, with few exceptions. State laws prohibit burning of painted, treated and other unclean wood, asphalt, plastics of any kind, oily substances, rubber products, wet rubbish and other materials. If a business, industry or municipality wishes to burn clean wood waste or brush, it must first obtain approval and a license from the DNR Waste and Materials Management Program to operate as a wood burning facility.

It is also illegal to burn unwanted buildings in Wisconsin. The only exception is for a fire department practice burn of a standing building that has received prior approval from the DNR Air Management Program. The building must be inspected for asbestos by a certified inspector. All asbestos-containing materials must be removed prior to burning. Individual homeowners may burn small quantities of clean wood and paper. However, recycling ordinances statewide prohibit the burning of cardboard, newspaper, magazines and other recyclable materials.

Development of alternative uses for C&D wastes may require initial DNR evaluation under the solid waste processing facility requirements in s. NR 502.08, Wis. Adm. Code. [exit DNR]

Using wood waste from a construction site for erosion control and soil amendment

Unpainted and untreated wood that is chipped or shredded can be used for erosion control, landscaping, trail surfaces and soil amendment in accordance with exemptions provided in s. NR 500.06(2)(a) and (e), Wis. Adm. Code [exit DNR]. Wood may be from any source such as tree trimming, construction or demolition, but the wood must be unpainted, untreated and free of contaminants like plaster, metals, plastic and other physical contaminants. No prior approval from the DNR is required, however certain limitations apply.

  • Placement of wood within an area designated as a floodplain should be limited to thin layers for landscaping and trail surfaces.
  • Improper use of wood chips and sawdust can damage surface and groundwater quality.
  • Erosion control and soil amendment activities are not appropriate within a wetland, lake, river or stream.
  • Exemptions to use do not apply to use of glued wood products or wood treated to prevent insect damage or rot.
  • Placement of large quantities of wood chips or sawdust in thick layers might be considered disposal and be subject to local ordinances.

For more information about the above limitations for using wood waste and other references please refer to the Wood Chips Exempt Use Guidance [PDF]. Follow these general guidelines.

  • Landscape and trail surfaces: Wood chips generally should be placed no thicker than one to two inches.
  • Construction site erosion control: Erosion control methods at certain sites are required to meet regulations under the Department of Commerce and local ordinances. Loose wood materials (chipped or shredded) are not proven effective erosion control and may not replace silt fence or erosion control mats.
  • Soil amendment: Wood materials alone are not a good soil amendment. In most cases, nutrient addition (nitrogen) would also be needed. Site specific evaluation of soil and plant nutrient needs is advisable.
Last revised: Thursday January 05 2017