Drywall Recycling

DrywallRecyclingThe NEWMOA C&D Materials Work-group developed an initial list of potential policy and regulatory options state agencies could implement to overcome the various barriers to increasing gypsum wallboard recycling.

The group held a series of discussions to evaluate the options and decided to focus on the most practical and feasible, and could result in significant improvements in gypsum waste recycling in the foreseeable future:

  • Ban the disposal of gypsum wallboard waste in landfills;
  • Require recycling of wallboard wastes produced by state-financed projects;
  • Require waste management planning;
  • Develop common terminology and reporting requirements; and
  • Develop and implement extended producer responsibility approaches.

These five policy options are recommended by the NEWMOA C&D Materials Workgroup for implementation or further study. Each one is described and includes a general overview, a summary of some challenges associated with it and ideas for next steps. The Workgroup members believe all of the options have the potential to significantly advance greater recycling of gypsum wallboard waste, and there is no implied preference for any of the options based on the order in which they are presented. The proposed policies are not dependent on each other, so an individual state could implement one or more.

Each state agency would need to consider the regulatory constraints associated with implementing any of the policies in their jurisdiction and whether regulatory or legislative action could be required. They would also need to consider the staffing and other resources needed. Multi-state coordination and information sharing would enhance implementation of all of the options. Effective facilitation of any follow-up efforts would help ensure the participating state interests are addressed and a useful set of support tools are developed.

The state agencies considering the various options would benefit from establishing a mechanism to engage the various stakeholders in the industry and communities to understand their insights and experience. Such stakeholder involvement could be coordinated either at the individual state level or regionally. Bringing appropriate stakeholders together can have market development benefits. For example, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) held quarterly stakeholder meetings over several years to discuss its proposed ban on disposal of new construction gypsum wallboard wastes. The agency reached out to a C&D gypsum wallboard processor to ensure this key stakeholder perspective was represented. Over time, the various business stakeholders made connections, which helped develop the infrastructure for recycling new construction wallboard scrap in the state.

The state agencies would need to determine whether each of these policies options would apply to all waste wallboard or new wallboard scrap only as they consider implementing them.1 If a policy option applies only to new wallboard scrap, then the states would need to address the management of gypsum from renovation and demolition projects that end up in the residuals and fines at C&D materials processing facilities and contribute to hydrogen sulfide gas generation. An option for addressing this challenge that could enhance the policies would be to require generators to remove large pieces of the old wallboard waste prior to processing and disposal at landfills.2

Ban the Disposal of Gypsum Wallboard Waste
A ban on disposal of wallboard would require generators and/or processors of C&D materials to segregate this material and find an outlet for it other than disposal. Under such a policy, a large supply of waste wallboard would be created, and business could develop to take advantage of the opportunity to process the material. A state gypsum wallboard disposal ban could require state legislation and/or regulatory rule-making. MassDEP published a proposed disposal ban on clean gypsum wallboard in May 20103 and held public hearings in June. The disposal ban is expected to be effective in March 2011.

The experience of MassDEP has shown there are some key questions policy makers need to address when developing a disposal ban, including:

  • How should stakeholders be engaged in the development of the ban?
  • Would the ban address where materials separation occurs?
  • Should the policy incorporate an exemption for generators of small quantities (for example, Massachusetts exempts less than 5 cubic yards) and a provision for a temporary exemption if market conditions severely limit options for processing or use of the material?
  • Should the policy incorporate an exemption for specialty wallboard? Specialty wallboard contains additives that give it a specific property for a special application, such as mold resistance for bathrooms.
  • How would the agency implement the ban and conduct compliance and enforcement activities?

The main challenges that must be overcome in order to effectively implement a disposal ban include:

  • Providing adequate collection and processing infrastructure;
  • Having available markets for the materials produced; and
  • Shipping the materials across state lines for disposal.


Adequate collection and processing capacity is lacking in significant portions of the Northeast. This is particularly true in areas where large quantities of waste wallboard are inconsistently generated and/or generators are a long distance from recycling facilities. In these areas of the region, processors and recyclers would need to invest in the collection and aggregation infrastructure, particularly to capture waste wallboard from projects expected to generate less than 30 cubic yards.

Recyclers may also need state assistance with addressing facility siting and permitting requirements and/or obtaining grants or loans.

Markets for recycled gypsum are developing in the region. The information gathered from potential recycled gypsum users revealed a ban that applies to new wallboard scrap in multiple states could generate more recycled gypsum than existing wallboard manufacturers, cement manufacturers, and agricultural users have the capacity to use in the region. State agencies and stakeholders would have to address the possible shortfalls in capacity. Wallboard processor Gypsum Recycling America has indicated it would be feasible to send recycled gypsum to wallboard and cement manufacturers located outside the NEWMOA-member states.

If a disposal ban is adopted in an individual state, there is potential for wallboard waste to be shipped across state lines for disposal. To address this, MassDEP has proposed that “no person shall dispose, transfer for disposal or contract for disposal of the restricted material…” as part of its disposal ban.4

An alternative approach would be for all of the states that import C&D materials from the Northeast to implement disposal bans.

To address the challenges, state agencies could implement programs to help lower recycling infrastructure costs by promoting the development of more end use markets closer to where the material is produced. According to USA Gypsum, there is the potential to increase landscaping applications in the northeast, particularly along roadsides and seaside golf courses. State agencies would have to explore these and other possible uses to address infrastructure costs and challenges.

Many state agencies may be hesitant to consider developing a disposal ban without the existence of the necessary recycling infrastructure and end use markets, but the infrastructure and markets might not develop without the ban. This presents a “Catch-22” situation. State agencies interested in implementing disposal bans could convene stakeholder meetings to identify options, discuss barriers and develop strategies. MassDEP began exploring its wallboard disposal ban in 2004, and has worked since then with stakeholders to develop markets and infrastructure, and to initiate a formal rulemaking. The agency supported the stakeholder discussions to facilitate agreement on implementation of the ban. A key lesson from their experience is to plan for adequate time to discuss the issues with stakeholders and to present a consistent message that the state is seriously considering a disposal ban.

Require Recycling of Wallboard Wastes Produced by State-financed Projects
State governments could require recycling of waste wallboard generated during construction of government-owned or leased properties. This lead-by-example approach could require wallboard waste generated during construction projects is recycled. The resulting increased supply could help stimulate and sustain processing capacity and end-use markets.

There are two examples of state contracting programs in the northeast that require C&D materials recycling in state construction projects and include new construction wallboard scrap. The Massachusetts Department of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) recently revised its specifications for construction waste management and disposal to include a requirement to divert all clean gypsum wallboard waste from disposal to recycling and/or reuse outlets.5 The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is working on a memorandum of agreement with Maine’s Bureau of General Services that would result in recycling of waste wallboard from construction projects at state buildings.6 Other states could adopt similar policies and programs.

The experience in Maine and Massachusetts has shown there are key questions policy makers need to address in order to develop and implement this requirement:

  • Should the recycling requirement be limited to wallboard only, or should projects be required to also recycle other specific C&D materials, such as wood, metal, ABC and asphalt shingles?
  • Is the specification only for projects at buildings the state owns or leases, or should it be extended into requirements for all projects that receive state funding?
  • Would the requirement apply to all projects or only those above a certain size? What size would be appropriate? For example, Massachusetts DCAM exempts projects smaller than 20,000 sq ft.
  • How would the state monitor and enforce the requirement? Would contractors need to submit a plan in advance of their projects and/or a report after the construction is completed?
  • Which agency would receive and review the information?
  • Key challenges in implementing this strategy include:
  • The perception by builders and contractors that source separation would increase costs and that cost-effective wallboard processing and recycling facilities are not available; and
  • The state building management agency would need to participate and coordinate with the environmental agency on development and coordination.

State agencies could educate the construction industry to address its concerns about cost and markets. State building projects can provide useful information on the costs of source separation and recycling for state environmental agencies to use in such education efforts.

To implement this policy, the state agencies that manage state buildings need to be engaged in discussions and planning. This process could be assisted by a strong executive branch commitment to overall “greening” of state agencies and leading-by-example. Once the capital asset management agency is engaged with the environmental agency on developing a policy, the agencies could work through the questions outlined above and develop a specification to add to contracts as has been done in Massachusetts and is under way in Maine.

Agencies would also need to identify reuse and recycling outlets for the materials and conduct outreach to contractors so they can identify them and include the associated costs in their project bids. If a state agency is hesitant to move forward with a specification change, implementing a pilot project or two might be an appropriate first step. The state agencies could document the results and use these projects to highlight cost savings, other benefits and lessons learned.

Next issue: Require Waste Management Planning.

1 Would not apply to the option focused on developing common terminology and facility reporting requirements.
2 Gypsum fines have a high surface area that is available to react and generate hydrogen sulfide gas. Larger chunks of gypsum have significantly less surface area available to react.
3 The proposed regulation, background document, and public hearing notification are available at: www.mass.gov/dep/service/regulations/newregs.htm#gypsum.
4 The proposed regulation is available at: www.mass.gov/dep/service/regulations/newregs.htm#gypsum.
5 The specification is not currently available on the internet.
6 For more information, contact Randy McMullin at MaineDEP: [email protected].