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Handling waste from demolished structures

When structures are dismantled or demolished and disposed of, there is the potential for negative environmental impacts, particularly on wildlife and groundwater. Asbestos, lead, mercury and other hazardous substances in structures could harm human health or the environment if building materials, building system devices and household products are burned, buried, dumped or otherwise disposed of improperly.

On this page, "demolished structures" include any building or structure, ranging from a small shed up to a house or large farm building, that is deconstructed or demolished. Specific materials may include shingles, siding, painted or treated wood, cabinets, drywall, paneling, bathtubs, toilets, plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, conduit, wire, pipes and insulation. The information presented here also includes resources to help building owners determine proper management methods for wastes commonly encountered when removing building contents and hazardous devices.

Too valuable to waste

Many building materials and household products can be reused or recycled. There are growing markets for used building materials, including items that can be directly reused, and materials that can be processed into new products. Items such as light fixtures, cabinets and doors can often be reused in the remodeling or construction of other buildings or to create other products. Shingles can be processed to make asphalt, and wood that is untreated and unpainted may be reused as lumber or in new products such as chipboard and mulch.

Legal requirements

In general, it is illegal to bury waste on your property, except if it is generated on your property from normal household activities (waste commonly referred to as garbage or trash). Waste generated on-site from normal household activities is exempt from state regulation under s. 289.43(5), Wis. Stats., but may be regulated by local ordinances.

Waste from building demolition is not from normal household activities and is regulated by state law. While certain inert or clean building demolition materials can be disposed of as clean fill (described in more detail below), the Department of Natural Resources encourages building owners to salvage and recycle or reuse building materials to the greatest extent possible. Materials that cannot be reused or disposed of as clean fill should be taken to an appropriate hazardous material collection facility or landfill designed to control contaminants within the waste.

Provided that specific standards are met, it is legal to dispose of certain wastes at a site that does not have a DNR license or approval These wastes are commonly called clean or exempt fill and are limited to the following:

  • clean soil;
  • brick;
  • building stone;
  • concrete, reinforced concrete and broken pavement not painted with lead-based paint; and
  • wood not treated or painted with preservatives or lead-based paint.

These materials may not be disposed of in a wetland or floodplain and disposal cannot cause a nuisance or environmental problems. Contact DNR staff or review s. NR 500.08(2)(a), Wis. Adm. Code [exit DNR], for requirements and limitations.

You could face fines and penalties if you burn a structure, if there is documented environmental damage caused by waste disposed of on your land or if there is evidence of repeat violations. You may be held liable for environmental cleanup under Wisconsin's remediation laws (s. 292.11, Wis. Stats., commonly called the spills law) even if state disposal regulations did not apply to the waste.

Burying waste on your land could significantly reduce your property value and make you liable to future landowners. You may be required to disclose to potential buyers that the property has been used for waste disposal. If you conceal such information, there is the potential for legal problems between you and the property buyer, which may surface after a purchase deal is closed. Properties that contain waste disposal sites often have a reduced offering price and/or a contingency to cover the cost to dig up the buried waste and transport it to a landfill. Reduced property value or fulfilling the contingency requirements for cleanup could cost much more than simply managing the waste properly to begin with.

Burying structures on your property could also limit its potential for future development. If a development activity encounters waste or affects cover soils placed over waste, approval is normally needed to ensure that the waste is properly managed, and additional considerations may be necessary for installation or replacement of water supply wells due to potential contamination.

Remember that local regulations and permits may apply and adequate safety precautions should be followed.

Preferred handling options: reuse, recycle and landfill

The tabs below describe how to properly manage materials before and after demolishing a structure.

Hazardous materials

Check for hazardous materials

If you are demolishing a structure, the first step is to determine what hazardous materials may be contained within the building or building materials. These may include:

  • items coated with lead-based paint;
  • asbestos in insulation;
  • mercury in switches, thermostats, electronics, fluorescent lamps (light bulbs) and other equipment;
  • chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or other harmful chemicals in old refrigerators, air conditioners and aerosol cans; and
  • potentially toxic household or agricultural chemicals, including certain paints, cleaning products and pesticides.

Prior to demolition, any hazardous materials that can be removed should be removed and taken to an appropriate facility. Some of these materials can be taken to a Clean Sweep collection event or other household hazardous waste collection facility. Other materials may need to be sent to a hazardous waste management facility or to a landfill that can properly handle the materials.

There is no requirement to remove lead-based paint prior to disposal of demolition waste, but the paint will limit recycling options and prevent clean fill disposal.

Salvage

Salvage

Also, consider whether some building materials or components can be salvaged for recycling, composting or reuse. In particular, there are growing markets for old wood timbers, solid doors, hardwood flooring, light fixtures and cabinets, and architectural elements such as fireplace mantles and stair railings. For more information, visit our managing construction and demolition debris page.

Landfill

Landfill

Finally, you should send all other waste to a landfill designed to properly handle construction and demolition waste. (See the links below to find lists of municipal solid waste landfills or construction and demolition landfills.)

You can haul the waste to the landfill or hire a licensed solid waste transportation service to do so. (See list of transporters, municipal solid waste landfills and construction and demolition landfills below). If you haul the waste material directly to the landfill, there will be a disposal fee charged by the landfill. If a licensed transporter is hired, the disposal fee will be included in the hiring price. In either case, you or your waste hauler may be asked to provide the landfill with the Notification of Demolition and/or Renovation (Form 4500-113) [PDF]. This form is required for all non-residential structures, and for any residential structures with greater than four residential units, to document that the structure was inspected for asbestos prior to demolition.

Any demolition and hauling should be done safely and in accordance with all applicable local and state regulations.

To find disposal options:

Special disposal approval

Special disposal approval

The only legal avenue for disposing of a structure on your property is to obtain a "one-time disposal landfill" approval under the solid waste rules in s. NR 503.08, Wis. Adm. Code [exit DNR]. However, to obtain this type of approval, you must show that no reasonable disposal alternative exists, which is unlikely to be true almost anywhere in Wisconsin today. In addition, the one-time disposal application fee is $1,210, because such an application will require considerable DNR staff time. Considering the dollar value of the time it takes to bury the structure, equipment costs, loss of potential revenue from reclaimed materials and the cost of a required one-time approval request, on-site disposal is likely to be much more costly than landfill disposal or reclamation.

Last revised: Thursday January 05 2017