Saving the Environment One Square Foot of Ceiling at a Time
Being the first to attempt anything is not always an easy decision.
Yet, back in 2001, when the concept of building “green” and recycling construction waste materials was not exactly mainstream, Jerry Milton, president of Southeastern Interiors in Buies Creek, N.C., decided to become the first acoustical contractor in the country to participate in the ceiling recycling program offered by Armstrong Ceilings.
Once the decision was made, and as sustainable design and construction grew, so did Milton’s commitment to the environment as evidenced by the fact that his firm has now recycled more than 1.2 million square feet of discarded ceiling tiles.
“What’s so nice about the program is that it’s a win-win situation for everyone concerned,” says Milton. “Our customers don’t have to haul old tiles to the landfill, and, at the same time, it allows us to do our share of cleaning up the environment and reducing the build-up of solid waste.”
The program, which is the first and largest of its kind, enables building owners to ship old ceilings from renovation or demolition projects to an Armstrong ceiling plant as an earth-friendly alternative to landfill disposal.
Since it began the program, the company has recycled more than 75 million square feet of discarded ceiling tiles, representing more than 10,500 30-cubic-foot dumpsters of construction waste that would have normally been taken to landfills.
Participation in the program involves four steps. First, provisions for ceiling recycling need to be included in the project specifications.
Next, building owners or contractors need to verify that the old ceiling tiles can be recycled. The old tiles do not have to be Armstrong products to qualify for the program.
Following verification, owners or contractors must stack the old ceiling tiles on pallets and shrink-wrap or tightly band them for pick-up.
Once there is a full trailer load of old tiles, the owner or contractor 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.
In the case of less-than-truckload quantities, the company has a network of consolidators, including Southeastern, who will pick up the tiles and store them at its facility until there is a full trailer load.
PROCESS REMAINS ESSENTIALLY THE SAME
Southeastern offers its customers a turnkey type of service, in that it handles all the details involved with the program, including verification, removal, palletizing, wrapping, and transportation of the old ceiling tiles from the site.
Milton notes that even after eight years, the process for recycling ceiling tiles hasn’t changed much. “There have been some packaging changes over the years, but we are still fundamentally doing the same things we’ve always done, namely, remove, stack, wrap and ship. The only difference for us is that we’ve been doing it for so long, we feel we are now as efficient as we can be in terms of saving time and money.”
There is, however, one variation in the “ship” portion of the process. In the past, Armstrong would send a truck to pick up the discarded ceiling tiles. Today, Southeastern uses its own trucks to pick up and haul the old tiles to the nearest Armstrong plant. The truck is then loaded with new tiles to be installed on other Southeastern jobs.
Southeastern’s initial involvement with the ceiling recycling program came in 2001 with Progress Energy, then known as Carolina Power & Light, a regional utility provider that serves more than three million customers in the Carolinas and Florida.
As part of its work with Progress Energy, Southeastern not only installed new acoustical ceilings in the utility’s office renovation projects, but also recycled all of the old ceiling tiles.
Soon after, Milton introduced the program to Food Lion, one of the country’s largest supermarket chains with over 1,300 stores in eleven Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic states. In this case, however, Food Lion decided to test the program first.
The test went so well, Food Lion decided to roll the program out by making ceiling recycling part of every renovation of every store. Milton notes that in 2008 alone, his firm recycled ceilings from 25 Food Lion stores.
CAN SPOT PLENUM PROBLEMS EARLY
One of Southeastern’s most recent projects was the recycling of more than 100,000 square feet of old ceiling tiles for Campbell University as part of the renovation of a former commercial office building that will house the university’s school of law.
“We introduced Campbell to the program a few years ago as part of a 30,000-square-foot renovation we were involved in,” Milton says. “Ever since then, we’ve recycled ceilings for them regardless of how big or small the job is.”
The new Law School building is the largest thus far. In a renovation project of this magnitude, Milton points out that from a construction point of view, there is yet another benefit in addition to the environmental benefits. “By removing the ceiling tiles early on, the architects and engineers can look into the plenum and see what they’re working with, which can prevent a lot of problems later on.”
AWARENESS OF CEILING RECYCLING GROWING
Milton also notes that although the program remains essentially the same, more and more of his customers and prospects are learning about it, which is resulting in more phone calls from building owners and facility managers.
“Word is definitely getting out,” he says, “especially as an increasingly number of local laws and codes look into recycling efforts. Ceiling recycling is getting a lot of exposure, and, as a result, more people are becoming aware of it.”
As far as his advice to other contractors, Milton says, “Make sure you get out there and tell both your current and prospective customers about it. Set yourself apart from your competitors. Most owners and general contractors will recycle old ceiling tiles, especially if there is no significant increase in cost compared to dumping and no disruption to the construction schedule.”
Looking back on his years of recycling ceilings, Milton concludes, “Our goal, as well as that of our customers, is to reduce the generation of solid waste, and ceiling recycling helps address that problem in an environmentally prudent way.” W&C