- Construction and demolition (C&D) volumes have dipped in some areas due to the pandemic, according to reports from public companies and the Construction and Demolition Recycling Association (CDRA), whose members are largely private companies. While waste volumes more broadly have been impacted, C&D is particularly sensitive to trends like suspended road work projects, according to CDRA Executive Director William Turley.
- Those impacts haven't been universal, and recent moves to re-open states and cities have also helped revive C&D volumes. But C&D recyclers are still worried about long-term impacts. "One of the things that has hurt us during the pandemic is the shutting down of construction projects," Turley told Waste Dive.
- Waste Management, CDRA's biggest member, similarly reported roll-off numbers suffered in the spring. Janette Micelli, spokesperson for Waste Management, confirmed to Waste Dive the company saw more than 20% declines in third-party landfill tons and industrial hauls at the peak of shutdowns in April, a dip she said largely stemmed from C&D and special waste customers.
Turley told Waste Dive that C&D recycling has suffered as the pandemic has ramped up, even as the sector's struggles have flown under the radar despite C&D's large presence in the waste stream.
Problems for C&D recyclers since mid-March have included an influx of people sheltering in place and attempting household improvement projects while lacking basic knowledge about how to recycle various items, among other issues. But the halting of construction projects has been particularly hard for the industry.
"They shut down the road work [in many places]," Turley said, referring to government safety measures. Many road and broader construction projects in Washington, Pennsylvania, and other states came to a momentary halt as lawmakers issued shelter-in-place orders and other advisories, he said. Boston and other cities have also been impacted by broad construction stoppages.
But that hasn't been the case everywhere, and Turley said biweekly calls with CDRA members on the effects of the pandemic have indicated uneven impacts. He cited Texas as an example where volumes "have pretty much been unaffected" with C&D recyclers "seeing incoming materials at around the usual levels," a trend he linked to how many construction projects are able to continue on schedule.
Research by CDRA has found that recycled C&D materials are often used in place of virgin alternatives, including for construction projects — leading to stark impacts when projects are suspended or canceled, albeit with little consistency nationally. CDRA members have reported road work in Ohio, for example, has largely continued as usual. But in New York City — at times considered the epicenter of the virus in the United States — many projects have come to a halt, depressing volumes. Tonnages for some members are down between 50% and 80% over the same period a year ago as a result, per recent reports given to CDRA about the pandemic's impacts.
In areas where construction work has paused, revival might take time. Government officials, for example, are still following pandemic precautions in some places, which is slowing down permitting processes according to trends noted by CDRA members.
Public companies are also reporting heavy C&D impacts stemming from the shutdown. A spokesperson for Republic Services directed Waste Dive to the company's Q1 earnings call, which noted C&D third-party tons decreased 11% in April. Over the border in Canada, impacts have also been stark: GFL Environmental previously reported roll-off hauls were down 18% and Waste Connections also referenced Canada and the Northeast as issue areas for C&D.
Micelli of Waste Management reported similar trends, saying much of the change was "due to a combination of construction shutdowns and deferrals until those customers gained better visibility as to the re-start and the overall macro-economic impact on their businesses."
During the company's Q1 earnings call in early May, CEO Jim Fish said numbers for industrial hauls and third-party tons initially went down 4.6% the week of March 15, before declining in subsequent weeks. Still, Fish said those numbers had already begun to tick up at the time of the call, indicating a "fairly sharp rebound." Micelli echoed that optimism around C&D. "We think that industrial and [landfill and transfer station] will rebound more quickly than commercial," she said.
Even as C&D recyclers report an uptick with some areas reopening, however, concerns remain about the future. Many construction projects already underway before the pandemic will resume, but recyclers worry other efforts may be delayed or canceled, posing a financial hurdle after summer ends. Turley said CDRA members are not reporting pricing shifts at the moment, but indicated a recession could potentially change that.