Habitat Pilots Zero Waste Construction Site

Teton County’s first model of a zero waste construction site, a partnership between Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling (ISWR) and Greater Teton Habitat for Humanity, was successful in diverting  25,737 pounds of material from the landfill, a 45% diversion rate for the overall project. The process to achieve this level of resource recovery and careful project management was both exciting and challenging! The impacts of this significant effort were shared with 14 staff members, 1131 volunteers, 55 subcontractors, and a lunch-and-learn event audience of 31. The experience turned out to be everything we hoped, a little we didn’t expect, and a lot we can all use going forward.


As shown in the table below, the year-end results from zero waste efforts at the Grove resulted in the diversion of 25,737 pounds of material from the landfill, a diversion rate of 45%. As discussed in the initial grant application, this diversion rate may now function as a baseline comparison for future zero waste construction projects.

Material Pounds to Landfill Pounds Diverted

from Landfill

Total Pounds Generated % Diversion from Landfill
Trash 32,000
Metal 2,000
Wood 20,000
Glass 36
Aluminum Cans 290
Plastic Bottles 211
Corrugated Cardboard 3,200
Total 32,000 25,737 57,737 45%


As anticipated, the 2017-2018 Zero Waste Model Construction Site was successful in  demonstrating what a zero waste construction site could look like, how it could be managed, what it could achieve in the way of diverting materials from the landfill, and how it might influence the standard practices of staff, volunteers, subcontractors, waste haulers, and local industry professionals.

With support from ISWR, Teton Habitat staff did an excellent job of identifying the materials that would be targeted for diversion. These categories included wood, metal, cardboard, and lunch area recyclables (as pictured). The Habitat team planned the spatial arrangement of multiple material bins and coordinated the collection and hauling of each of the materials.

Once the systems to collect materials were in place, Habitat organizers developed and implemented appropriate signage and training to educate site participants on how to utilize the zero waste systems and processes. This included a daily training for volunteers on how to properly dispose of recyclable and non-recyclable materials. The photo below depicts one of the instructional signs.

A Lunch-and-Learn event, hosted by ISWR with the support of the Community Foundation, was held in November 2017 to share the results of the first five months of testing zero waste operations at the Grove. Teton Habitat Outreach Coordinator, Elizabeth Ferguson, along with additional Habitat staff members, described the process to separate and divert construction materials, train volunteers and subcontractors, and track progress. The event audience totaled 31 people and included representatives from the design and construction industry, the waste hauling industry, and several sustainability related organizations.

A number of event attendees expressed interest in continuing the conversation and remaining involved in the effort to increase waste diversion within the construction and demolition industry. A focus group was created from these individuals and has continued to meet quarterly since the initial November event. The group is currently managed as a committee of the ISWR advisory board and includes sixteen members.  Initiatives underway include:

  • the addition of ISWR waste diversion guidelines to the information provided by these designers, project managers and haulers to their customers;
  • an expansion of material bin sizes, locking tops, and collection services provided by local hauling companies – to accommodate the variable needs of different sizes and types of construction sites and projects;
  • plans to draft a zero waste construction site manual for project managers that will include many of the practices and lessons from the Grove and other demonstration sites;
  • the selection of additional/future zero waste demonstration sites in the region; and
  • possible collaboration with the TRUE program, a new resource and certification program from the US Green Building Council, http://newsroom.usgbc.org/gbci-introduces-true-zero-waste-rating-system/ 


Many thanks to the Teton Habitat staff for opening their site and themselves up to the many lessons learned throughout this initial year of zero waste demonstration. They were diligent in tracking results , noting observations and, when things did not go as planned, “diving” in to clean up anything that went awry. The following is a summary of the lessons they recorded:

  • Bin Sizes – Initially, the bin sizes available from local waste haulers were limited. They offered only large roll-off dumpsters, which took up a large amount of space on the site and assumed that equal amounts of wood, metal, etc. would be generated. Habitat coordinators originally ordered three 16 foot roll-offs; one each for metal, wood and landfill bound trash. Once it was understood that the footprint of these dumpsters was oversized and unnecessary, an adjustment was made to use one 16 foot roll-off for wood, a 4-yd bin for landfill bound trash, and a self-crafted metal bin.
    • This discussion at the lunch-and-learn event resulted in the subsequent expansion of bin sizes available from several local waste haulers for construction materials.
  • Metal Hauling – The amount of metal collected from the site was less than expected. The large metal dumpster and planned haul trips turned out to be unnecessary. Habitat staff, instead, fashioned a small box for metal recycling and hauled this material to recycling on their own as necessary. The financial impacts of this change are noted in the budget section below.
    • In new construction, there is less metal recycling to be done than on a demolition project.
  • Daily Training – The Habitat volunteer model, which includes a daily safety talk, allowed for a short daily recycling and waste diversion training session for any new people on site. On a traditional, non-volunteer construction site, recycling training would need to take place any time a new construction member or subcontractor participates on site.
  • Recycling Lunch/Personal Items – For the first stage of this particular project, Habitat subcontracted the framing out to a local construction crew. This allowed for the observation of a typical construction crew in comparison with those participating in the Habitat volunteer model. It was noted that the subcontracted crews struggled more with recycling lunch/personal items (water bottles, cans, and glass) than they did with the construction materials, such as wood, metals, and cardboard. These crews were more familiar with sorting construction items than the personal use items, so special steps were taken to increase signage and awareness around the lunch/break area.
    • Habitat coordinators noted a potential opportunity to include the elements of zero waste operations within all coordinating project contracts (subcontractors, etc.) but were not able to implement them within the timeframe of this project.
  • Magnetic Signs for Roll-off Bins – Habitat coordinators opted for magnetic signs to attach to the roll-off bins to be easily interchangeable when a full bin was removed and an empty one was delivered. These signs were substantially delayed at the beginning of the project but were eventually found to be useful.
  • Upstairs Recycling – Smaller, 50-gallon trash cans, were used for crews working on the second-floor spaces to sort their materials nearby and then deliver the pre-sorted items to the larger bins on the ground. This method was found to be more effective than having the crews combine materials upstairs and handle them again in order to sort them into the larger bins.
  • Contamination – Despite ample training and appropriate signage, contamination is an issue in all efforts to collect recyclables. Not all materials are sorted and deposited into the correct bins. The photo below is of Habitat Outreach Coordinator, Elizabeth Ferguson, following her triumphant removal of pounds and pounds of unwanted trash from the WOOD ONLY container. Contamination from trash in wood disposal loads is a common occurrence and results in a sorting fee of $250/ton at the Teton County Trash Transfer Station.
  • Plastic-coated Wood Wrap – The largest contributor, by volume, to the landfill-bound trash bins was the plastic-coated wrap used for the bunks of wood from the lumber yard. Although this material is light, it is very bulky and quickly filled the trash dumpsters, requiring more frequent emptying. ISWR was unable to identify a recycling opportunity for this plastic wrap but will continue to monitor markets.
  • Stretchy Plastic Film – The collection of recyclable stretchy plastic film also proved difficult. None of the waste haulers offered any type of bin or collection service for this material, so ISWR provide a large roll-off container (similar to the large blue bins used at community recycling sites) for collection during the late spring and early summer months. It tends to be that the longer an unlocked bin sits on a public site, the higher the chances are that it will be filled with trash. Unfortunately, this was the case with the bin supplied for plastic film. When it was finally emptied onto the recycling floor, it was found to be completely contaminated with food waste and the accompanying mold and maggots. This load, consisting of 2300 pounds of plastic and trash, had to be sent to the landfill rather than recycled. A smaller bin with more regular tipping service is recommended for plastic film collection in the future.

Project Continuation

Teton Habitat intends to continue to operate the Grove as a zero waste model site. ISWR plans to provide support through additional/improved signage, outreach and social media promotion, and collaboration via the zero waste construction focus group mentioned above.


The total expenses for this project turned out to be less than anticipated. The changes to the plans for scrap metal collection and hauling described in the Results section above resulted in expenses that totaled 26% less than originally anticipated, a surplus of $1102. Following a conversation and subsequent approval from staff at the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, these funds will be utilized in related areas of ISWR zero waste outreach. The additional funds will be used for updated brochures explaining construction material disposal guidelines, additional cardboard recycling services at the Grove, and reusable banners and signage for continued zero waste operations at the Grove as well as future demonstration sites.

Building strength, stability, and self-reliance!
Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Teton Area (Teton Habitat)
kendra@tetonhabitat.org | 307-734-0828
850 W. Broadway | P.O.Box 4194
Jackson Hole, WY 83001
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