Deconstruction is Policy Already Written – by Sara Badiali

Deconstruction is Policy Already Written
by Sara Badiali



Reclaiming materials affects the economy by creating jobs, job training, and markets for materials. It cuts down on the need for harvesting new materials like timber, and removes the need for landfill space. Reclaiming materials reduces co2 emissions. The benefits are often called a triple bottom line economy by creating jobs, markets, and sustainable environmental practices.

Municipalities across the country are working on creating and implementing policy addressing the practice of recycling buildings. Creating ordinances that can be implemented and enforced are prompting a wave of interest in emulating European laws that have been in place for years.

One way of creating effective change is to have policies implemented by government agencies first.  Mandating that all government buildings be deconstructed for salvage is an effective strategy for long term adoption from the public. If our tax money goes into creating these buildings, then it should also go back into the local economy when the building has expired.

The arduous task of navigating government bureaucracy to create a new policy adopting deconstruction for municipal buildings, has impeded progress in this arena in even the most progressive governments. However, all governments already have existing policy and just don’t realize it.

Disposal of governmental property policy and procedures universally exist. In Portland, Oregon it is ordinance: 5.36.010 Disposition of Surplus Property. This is what part of that ordinance looks like:

B. City Capital Asset Disposal Documentation: The bureau initiating the transfer, donation, sale, ​or disposal of surplus property that has been inventoried as a capital asset, shall comply with ​ ​City Accounting Administrative Rules regarding disposal of capital assets, which establish​ ​minimum standards for the disposal of capital assets and subsequent reporting in the financial ​ ​records.

Reclaimed building materials are assets when harvested properly. Building materials that can immediately be reused like concrete return to cement manufactures to be reused as aggregate. Metals are recycled at facilities that pay for scrap metal. However, wood needs processing beyond concrete or metal. Wood needs to be separated into “reusable” or “recyclable”. Reusable wood needs de-nailing, which in many cases can be a time and labor intensive process. Recyclable wood is chipped on site for fuel or mulch. Building components like shingles, windows, fixtures, doors, bathtubs, toilets, sinks, appliances, and hardware are all recyclable and many are reusable.

There are markets for all these items. They fluctuate like all markets and respond to supply and demand like all markets. Building material reuse is tied to the renovation and repair markets. When the pace of housing renovation increases there is more demand for construction materials.

Much of the language of Ordinance 5.36.010 applies to materials that can be reclaimed from deconstructed buildings:

D. Usable Surplus Property: Whenever a Commissioner-In-Charge, or designee, determines that ​ ​ ​surplus property exists, the property may be disposed of in one of the following ways:


1. Inter-Bureau Transfer or Sale – Surplus property may be transferred or sold to another City ​bureau upon written request from the director of the bureau that has a use for it.


2. Negotiated Direct Sale – Surplus property with an individual or aggregate current market value ​under $5,000 may be sold as follows:


a. The bureau obtains three written or verbal price quotations prior to final sale;


b. The bureau negotiating the sale keeps written records of the price quotations, the ​​amounts, and if necessary, the reason why three quotations could not be obtained;


​​c. The bureau sells the surplus property to the highest bidder meeting all conditions of the ​ ​sale; and


​d. The bureau applies the proceeds of the sale to its property disposition expenses in the ​​following order: storage, transportation, publication fees and other costs of safekeeping ​and sale, and then to the City fund owning the property at the time of sale unless otherwise ​directed by the City Council.

It is currently common practice to harvest cement and concrete, metals, and in some cases wood (for chipping) after demolition of a building. However, harvesting materials from a building that is already demolished is much like picking recyclables out of piles of garbage.

Deconstruction or building dismantling, is like separating your household waste into the proper recycling bins. Each component goes into its proper stack. Glass, metal, wood, and concrete, are stacked in piles much like they arrive on a build site before construction.

Disposal of governmental property policy and procedures universally exist. These rules apply to everything from government vehicles to outdated electronics to impounded or seized property. The general principal followed is the proper department sells the material for market value or sends it to the correct recycling outlet. Instead of writing new policy, the existing policies should be reinterpreted to include deconstruction of government buildings.

Instead of demolishing and landfilling resources, we should be putting the components back into local markets while creating jobs, and fulfilling our environmental benchmarks. In essence, deconstructing government buildings is our highest good while following our own laws.