Construction WasteLEED v4LEED v4.1

Earning MRc5 Construction Waste Management in LEED v4.1

You can’t let these 2 points go to waste!

Construction waste management is pursued on nearly every LEED project, and for good reason. With proper planning, two points are readily achievable. The updates to LEED v4.1 make credit achievement easier across the board by requiring less total material streams to earn the points.

The challenge? “How do I get the multiple material streams, especially on a tight job site?” This is the Green Badger assessment and suggested strategy to use to earn two points on MRc5 for your project. For a quick overview of the changes to construction waste between LEED v4 and LEED v4.1, check out this blog post. What strategy have you been using to achieve this credit on your projects? Let us know in the comments section.

LEED Requirements for MRc5 for v4.1

1 Point: 50% diversion AND either 2 materials streams OR use an RCI certified facility

2 Points: 75% diversion AND either 3 material streams OR use an RCI certified facility AND 1 other material stream.

Let’s start with a definition: what is a material stream? The USGBC Reference Guide defines a material stream as flows of materials coming from a job site into markets for building materials.

To get the LEED gibberish out of the way, let’s restate – what’s the material, and where does it go. Typically, it is one material going to one end-use or facility. If you have a metals dumpster on-site and it all goes to one metal recycling company, that counts as one material stream. That is the most straightforward example. However, a single material may count as two material streams. 

How can one material count as two streams?

Let’s say you’re deconstructing a building and salvaging the brick. Some of the brick is in great shape and you’re able to either reuse it yourself or send it to a reclaimed materials company for resale. That’s one material stream. The rest of the brick wasn’t in great shape, so it got tossed in the masonry dumpster to be recycled as aggregate. That is a second material stream for brick.

What about commingled?

Commingled is typically considered one material stream, unless the facility can track and produce documentation of specific materials recycled for your project. If that’s the case, then you can count each material as a separate stream (more on that in a bit). 

What amount of material constitutes a stream?

There is no fixed amount for a product to be considered a material stream. USGBC suggests 5% of total waste, but there’s definitely wiggle-room. No, you can’t recycle 1 soda can and count aluminum as a material stream, but you can be strategic with your efforts and stay within bounds. 

What doesn’t count as a material stream?

There are a few things you’ll never consider as material streams. The most common waste you’ll come across is land clearing debris (cleared trees, rocks, stone, etc). They don’t help you, but they don’t count against you, so exclude them from your calculator altogether. 

The same goes for hazardous waste, even if it is from a building being demolished. Dispose of it properly, and account for it in your construction waste management plan, but don’t include it in your overall diversion calculations. 

What about RCI certified facilities?

If you can use a facility that is Recycling Certification Institute (RCI) certified then, by all means, you should. But there are less than 25 RCI certified facilities in the country, so we’ll assume you don’t have one next door. That means that in order to get 2 points for this credit, you need 3 material streams and 75% diversion under v4.1

The diversion tends to be the easy part. The challenge is often obtaining the necessary material streams.  

Strategies for Achieving MRc5

Here’s the good news: with LEED v4, you only need 3 different material streams and this is typically quite achievable. A key point is you don’t need 3 separate dumpsters during the entire project. A good strategy is to phase in dumpsters for the timeframe they are needed, so you’re not taking up valuable real estate on your jobsite.

When you start sitework and foundations, you’ll likely not have any waste except concrete. Having a dedicated concrete dumpster during this timeframe is a no-brainer, and once you’re done – boom! 1 (heavy) material stream is already taken care of. 

Now it’s time for the building to go vertical. This is when your commingled recycling dumpster can take the lion’s share of your waste (assuming the hauler/facility is handling it correctly as described below). It is even normal/possible to have a metals dumpster, because there’s good value in that scrap! If so, you’re already at 3 streams and can kick back and pop a cold one (as long as you recycle the can in the metal dumpster). 

If you still need an additional material stream, hyper-focus on another short-term material, like wood pallets, or cardboard as appliances/furniture shows up at the end of the project. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. 

Let’s recap the construction waste strategy:

  1. On-site separation based on phases – not multiple dumpsters throughout (unless you’ve got the space!)
  2. Concrete early
  3. Commingled during (and metals if you can swing it)
  4. Wood, or Cardboard/Paper at the end

One last note on dumpsters:

A material “dumpster” doesn’t mean a 20-yard container hanging out for weeks. A 90-gallon roll-off container counts just as much. Just empty it frequently to keep from overflowing and ending up in the waste pile. These are especially useful for interiors projects.

Important note on commingled recycling:

Commingled recycling facilities must be able to provide project-specific diversion rates or an average diversion rate for the facility that is regulated by the local or state authority. Visual inspection is not an acceptable method for evaluating diversion rates.

If the commingled recycling facility can track and produce documentation of specific materials recycled for your project, you can count commingled waste as multiple waste streams. Otherwise, commingled waste that is the average diversion rate for a regulated facility is counted as a single waste stream regardless of how many different materials are included. 

The average recycling rate for the facility must exclude alternative daily cover (ADC). Alternative daily cover (ADC) means cover material other than earthen material placed on the surface of the active face of a municipal solid waste landfill at the end of each operating day to control vectors, fires, odors, blowing litter, and scavenging.

More Best Practices for Construction Waste Management

Hitting your waste targets and material streams is the end goal, and your local haulers and facilities will go a long way towards successful implementation, but there are still other best practices to consider to increase your odds. 

1. Have a good construction waste management plan. 

First of all, it is required for the pre-requisite under MRp2 – you’ve got to have a plan that identifies what waste is going to be generated for the project, and what means will be implemented to divert from landfills. You need to identify at least 5 different materials in your plan, even if you only need 3 in implementation to earn the points.

But really working through this plan with your waste haulers will help you identify:

  1. what the optimum dumpster placement strategy will be,
  2. where those materials are going to be going, and
  3. what the estimated totals will be.

Doing this early will help the team know they are on course to hit the material streams required under the credit. Not thinking this through, and trying to throw it together at the end of construction can lead to not earning any points and leave everyone frustrated. 

2. Communicate your construction waste management plan to the team and the subs. 

Let everyone know what the recycling strategies are – one dumpster, multiple dumpsters, subs responsible for their own waste, etc – so there’s no confusion and materials aren’t just getting tossed in the waste dumpster. Speaking of dumpsters – clearly label them by material! Not a tiny sticker on the side –  a big, clearly marked sign for each dumpster.

While you’re at it – make the signs bi-lingual to ensure everyone can understand what goes where. 

3. Finally – track and communicate frequently. 

Getting waste reports 6 months after a dumpster pull doesn’t help anyone. Neither does keeping your ongoing progress buried 500 emails deep. Track and report at least monthly what the current diversion percentage is, and how many material streams the project has so that there are no surprises at the end.

You don’t want to get that last dumpster pull and find out you’re at 74% because the team got careless. Monitor, report and communicate your waste diversion results so the team can change course if things start to look out of what. 


Let’s recap how to earn 2 points for MRc5: Construction Waste Recycling

  1. 2 points are achievable, with 3 material streams and 75% diversion
  2. If necessary, phase in dumpsters, with concrete early, then commingled, and finalize with wood/cardboard/etc
  3. Develop your plan with your hauler early
  4. Communicate frequently!

Green Badger’s help and resources don’t end here! You can download a free construction waste management template to get a kick-start to enact the strategies outlined in this guide.

Construction waste management template free download for LEED v4

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