Old ceiling tiles from the Business Administration Building are being reclaimed as part of the recycling program rather than being dumped in a landfill.

Following removal from the ceiling, old tiles are stacked on pallets. The old ceiling tiles do not have to be Armstrong products to qualify for the program.

The Pennsylvania State University's colors are blue and white but it is the school's commitment to "green" building practices and other environmental strategies that is causing other colleges and universities to take notice.

"We're not trying to change the world here, just our part of it," says Graham Spanier, president of Penn State.

The school's commitment is embodied in a program called the Environmental Stewardship Initiative. Managed by Steve Maruszewski, deputy associate vice president for the Office of Physical Plant and comprised of a team of 10 managers and directors that cuts across university functions, the Initiative has as one of its objectives to move the university toward more sustainable practices.

Once stacked, the tiles are shrink wrapped for pick-up.

And to help achieve that objective, the Initiative has identified as one of its seven goals to minimize solid waste production by enhancing policies and processes that reduce solid waste generation through reduction, reuse and recycling.

The newest process to be implemented as part of that goal is participation in the Ceiling Recycling Program conducted by Armstrong Ceilings.

The first major project on the Penn State campus to include ceiling recycling is the remodeling of the school's Business Administration Building.

Four steps

The program, which is the only one of its kind, enables building owners to ship old ceilings from renovation projects to a ceiling plant as an alternative to landfill disposal. Under the program, Armstrong even pays freight costs for shipping the old tiles, which it uses as raw materials in the manufacture of new tiles.

Since it introduced the program in 1999, the company has recycled more than 30,000,000 square feet of discarded ceiling tiles or enough tiles to cover 525 football fields. This represents nearly 21,000,000 pounds, or 10,500 tons, of construction waste that would have normally been dumped in landfills.

The program involves four steps. First, provisions for ceiling recycling should be included in the project specifications. Second, building owners need to verify that their old ceiling tiles can be recycled. The old tiles do not have to be Armstrong products to qualify for the program.

Following verification, owners must stack their old ceiling tiles on pallets and wrap them for pick-up. Once there is a full trailer load of old ceilings (30,000 square feet), the owner simply needs to contact Armstrong, which will then arrange for a truck to pick up the material and transfer it to its nearest manufacturing facility.

According to Al Matyasovsky, Supervisor of Central Support Services at Penn State, the decision to recycle old ceilings was an easy one because it was such a "natural" fit into the university's overall program.

"We already had processes in place to recycle traditional items such as cans, bottles and paper, as well as non-traditional items such as pallets, motor oil, scrap metal and other types of construction debris," says Matyasovsky. "As a result, recycling ceilings was an easy and simple addition since we didn't really have to do anything differently other than the handling."

Once there is a trailer load of old ceilings, a truck will pick up the material and transfer it to its nearest manufacturing facility.

Less cost, less landfilling

The first major project to include ceiling recycling is the remodeling of the campus's Business Administration Building. Built in 1973, the eight-story building houses a variety of offices and classrooms used by students, faculty and administration. It is currently vacant as a result of the construction of a new BAB building nearby.

"Now that everyone has moved out, it gives us the opportunity to remodel and upgrade the entire facility for re-use," Matyasovsky says.

Included in the demolition stage of the remodeling is the recycling of such construction waste as the metal casings from old light fixtures, metal ceiling grid, electrical conduit and nearly 50,000 square feet of old 2-foot-by-4-foot acoustical ceiling tiles.

"In the past, our only alternative was to send the discarded tiles to the landfill," Matyasovsky says.

He also notes that a project does not have to be a large one to recycle old ceiling tiles.

"Our position has always been that responsible waste management is not one ton or two tons at a time. It's one aluminum can at a time, one plastic bottle at a time, and now one ceiling tile at a time. Consequently, regardless of whether we're remodeling an entire building or a single classroom, we'll recycle ceilings whenever we can."

The key to the smaller jobs has been the ability to consolidate the old tiles. Armstrong keeps a trailer centrally parked at the campus as an accumulation point to facilitate the process. As tiles are removed, they are simply loaded into it. Once the trailer is full, it is hauled away and replaced with an empty one.

Time analyses show that the process for recycling ceilings is nearly as fast as dumping them, so the program has little, if any, adverse impact on demolition schedules. It can also be less costly than the cost of handling, transport, container and landfill fees.

In the case of Penn State, Matyasovsky notes that while it is still too early to definitively conduct a cost analysis, he believes the time and cost of stacking and wrapping the discarded tiles is about the same as that of hauling them to the transfer site. Where he believes savings will be achieved is in the elimination of the local tipping fee, which is nearly $60 per ton.

"The tiles also contribute to our county recycling report," he adds. "And, this is important because as our recycling tonnage goes up and our refuse tonnage goes down, we can qualify for additional grant money from the state, which helps support our total recycling program."

However, while cost is a consideration, it is, by no means, the only one.

"As a university, we want to remove as much as we can from the waste stream, and recycling ceilings is just one more example," Matyasovsky concludes.

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