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Cook County set new standards for demolition recycling, reuse

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Cook County set new standards for demolition recycling, reuse

Flickr/Theresa Wysocki

Cook County has passed new regulations on the demolition industry that officials say will promote recycling of old building materials.

Deborah Stone, who heads the county’s department of environmental control, said approximately 40 percent of what currently ends up in the nation’s landfills is debris from demolished buildings.

“We’re taking perfectly good materials with value, basically money, and we’re throwing it away,” Stone said.

But an ordinance passed on Tuesday seeks to address that issue.

The new ordinance requires demolition companies to recycle at least 70 percent of a building’s materials and reuse at least 5 percent of those materials if it’s a residential building. That ordinance applies to suburban Cook County where the county’s department of environmental control has jurisdiction.

Stone said the ordinance aims to take the money demolition companies pay in “tipping fees”

fees they pay to dump their debris into landfills

and instead spend that money on labor to deconstruct and reuse old building materials.

Karsten Pawlik, a demolition contractor and president of the Association of Subcontractors and Affiliates of Chicago, says the ordinance is impractical.

Pawlik said his business already recycles about 85 percent of old materials.

“We’re already doing it,” Pawlik said. “It’s just creating a burden on companies.”

That burden, Pawlik said, is administrative costs, like the paperwork companies would have to fill out for the county. Pawlik also says reusing 5 percent of residential buildings is “silly” because if a company can reuse materials, they do.

“If there was a value for it, we’d already be doing it. If we could get $100 for a door, we’d take it out and sell it for $100,” Pawlik said. “You want to recycle an old refrigerator where’s there’s old food in it? You can’t do that.”

Pawlik called it economically unfeasible to make companies reuse 5 percent in most cases, saying the cost of labor would be too high.

But Stone said the county will waive penalties in cases where materials are deemed unusable.

“We’re not out there to put anybody out of business,” Stone said, adding that bigger demolition businesses may already recycle most of its materials, but the ordinance is a way to ensure smaller businesses do too. Stone said setting requirements will cause businesses to think about recycling and reusing materials, helping a relatively new industry to grow.

“Sometimes government has to push these things along in the beginning,” Stone said.

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