Despite (or perhaps because of?) lingering economic malaise, garbage is increasingly valuable.

Recycling of metal, paper, plastic, glass, textiles, rubber, and electronics is up 40% since 2009, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc., with a corresponding impact on employment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says scrap recycling added 10,000 jobs between the first quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of this year, bringing the total number of related jobs to 113,000.

Last year, 130 million metric tons of scrap worth $77 billion were manufactured into specification-grade commodities. These materials included:

  • 90 million tires
  • Iron/steel: 74 million metric tons
  • Paper: 47 million metric tons
  • Aluminum: 4.6 million metric tons
  • Electronics: 3.5 million metric tons
  • Copper: 1.9 million metric tons
  • Lead: 1.2 million metric tons
  • Plastic bottles: 654,220 metric tons
  • Zinc: 160,000 metric tons.

Inspired by such growth, the National Demolition Association inaugurated the Environmental Excellence Awards this year. The following are two of the program's 11 recipients. The organization's 1,000 members include civil engineering firms, and recycling, landfill, and salvage operations.

When it opened in 1997 in the nation's busiest containerport, the Los Angeles Export Terminal was a marvel of modern commerce. Built to quickly unload coal arriving by rail into ships bound for Asia, the facility processed up to six 12,000-ton trains a day. But when customers found sources closer to home or began mining their own coal, 120 acres had to be repurposed.

Known for their environmental sensitivity, Port of Los Angeles managers approached the process of dismantling buildings and equipment at one of their 270 berths similarly. Working with contractor Standard Industries, virtually all — 98.78% — material was recycled or reused:

  • 1.7 million gallons of water were conserved
  • 40,000 cubic yards of soil is being used as cover at a local landfill
  • 700 rail ties and 10,000 tons of metal were recycled
  • A conveyor system was salvaged for use in the Midwest
  • A rail car dumper was disassembled and sent to Australia for use there
  • The U.S. Navy is reusing all transformers, electrical switchgear, breakers, and lights
  • 320 steel piles, some 75 feet long, will be used as falsework for bridge construction
  • 150,000 tons of concrete and asphalt are being recycled for use as base material for new roads and foundation support.

The lifespan of a landfill in Fresno, Calif., has been extended by 30 years by excavating, separating, and screening more than 2.5 million cubic yards of waste and reusing millions of tons of reclaimed soil for ongoing operations. Contractor: Kroeker Inc.