Until four years ago the Wisconsin Division of Facilities Development (DFD), the agency responsible for building and maintaining all state-owned properties, did almost no recycling on state building projects. Since January 2008 however, when Wisconsin started to require recycling on some projects, more than 140,000 tons of construction and demolition (C&D) waste has been diverted from landfills, representing a project cost savings of more than $4 million.

What led to this turnaround? How did this state agency go from recycling almost none of its waste to diverting more than 90 percent of it from landfills?

The story begins back in 2006 when the Wisconsin Building Commission, a Governor-appointed board with authority to allocate state tax dollars for building projects, adopted a Sustainable Buildings Policy that required state properties to use “sustainable practices in the planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of all state facilities.” DFD staff, the operational arm of the commission, was directed to establish standards and specifications to implement the new policy. Utilizing published standards from the U.S. Green Building Council, the American Institute of Architects and other “green” building programs DFD assembled specifications and guidelines that would, among many things, increase energy efficiency, decrease pollution, improve water efficiency and minimize waste in state facilities and building projects.

Some of these standards though, were voluntary – particularly those related to C&D waste. Construction, demolition and renovation project contractors were “required” to recycle and divert waste from landfills, but there was no reporting requirement and no enforcement mechanism. The result was that some contractors recycled waste materials, some did not, and no consistent record was kept to document the success or failure of these programs. 

As one DFD staffer put it, “If everyone knows there is no cop on the road, is there really a speed limit?”