Northern News


A publication of the American Planning Association, California Chapter, Northern Section

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‘Deconstruction’ ordinance will require reuse, recycling of construction materials

By Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Weekly, July 9, 2019

“Palo Alto is preparing to effectively ban contractors from demolishing entire buildings starting in July 2020.

“Instead, workers will now be required to systematically disassemble structures, with the goal of reusing or recycling the bulk of the material on the site. Based on experiences in Portland, Oregon, which has a similar law in place, staff believes that up to 95 percent of the construction debris can be salvaged — either reused or recycled — through ‘deconstruction.’

“The newly adopted ‘deconstruction’ ordinance aims to help the city meet its goal of diverting 95 percent of local waste from landfills by 2030.

“Construction and demolition materials — about 19,000 tons of waste annually — represent more than 40% of Palo Alto debris that gets disposed in landfills. Under the old method, excavators smash and knock down the structure, reducing its materials into rubble that gets placed in containers and shipped to a waste-sorting facility. The operation takes a few days and a crew of two to three, and costs between $8 and $12 per square foot to complete.

“The new model calls for buildings to be systematically disassembled, typically in the reverse order in which they were constructed. Based on two recent pilot projects, deconstruction would take about 10 to 15 days to complete and require a crew of four to eight people, with the cost ranging from $22 to $34 per square foot.

“City staff estimates that the deconstruction-collection program will cost the city $243,000 in one-time expenses and $567,000 in annual ongoing expenses. In addition, the city plans to spend about $118,000 for consulting services related to outreach and education.

“Even so, city staff believes the environmental benefits outweigh the rising costs. Public Works staff pointed to Portland, where up to 25 percent of materials in residential buildings were deemed reusable and up to 70 percent recyclable, for a total recovery rate of 95 percent. Mixed construction-and-demolition debris, by contrast, typically nets recovery rates between 71 Percent and 80 Palo Alto adopts ‘deconstruction’ ordinance.

“The city will initially apply the ordinance for total demolitions of commercial and residential projects starting on July 1, 2020. The ordinance is expected to affect about 114 projects, according to staff.

“The ordinance will attain a broader reach in January 2022, when it becomes applicable to all projects valued at $100,000 or more, and in January 2023, when the threshold is lowered to $50,000.

“Councilwoman Alison Cormack acknowledged that the ordinance comes with ‘significant costs,’ both to the city and to the residents and businesses undertaking deconstruction. Even so, she said the new requirement is ‘absolutely worth doing.’ ”

Read the full article here.