Palo Alto to require construction crews to deconstruct sites, not demolish by 2020

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- We know that plastics are filling the ocean. But there's another kind of waste that Palo Alto is also concerned about -- construction materials.

As part of its Zero Waste initiative that includes a sweeping ban on single-use plastics, Palo Alto is now also requiring construction crews to deconstruct rather than demolish their sites. So what does that mean?

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"For too long, we have not done a good job at construction sites and we need to do that," said Phil Bobel, assistant director for Public Works Palo Alto. Bobel authored the ordinance approved by city council last Monday. "You can't just smash it and combine everything, so then it's harder to recycle it or salvage it."

Instead, construction companies will have to survey the site before razing it and create a more meticulous plan to bring an old building down. At Zanker Recycling in San Jose, we got to see what a demolition pile looks like without that forethought.

"So directly behind us, this is what demolition material looks like. There's probably a little plastic, carpet, wood, aggregate and metals. We've seen everything from bathtub sinks, you name it , all the way to porcelain," said Jerame Renteria, Marketing Manager for Zanker Recycling. "Deconstruction is more of a manicured step, you're going into a project and you're taking certain pieces with much care and much handle."

Renteria applauds Palo Alto's move but he's also realistic. Deconstruction is more expensive and labor intensive than demolition.

Bobel says the Palo Alto city council has no plans of holding up the permit process. They understand that it will take some time for companies to adopt. They estimate that more than 100 projects will be affected when the new rules are in place by July 2020.

"There will be a learning curve on it," says Bobel.

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