Waste to Gold (or Silver, or Platinum): LEED and Waste Management

By: Anna Munie CHMM

Take a look at any news release about LEED-certified buildings, and you are likely to hear mention of energy efficient HVAC systems, improved indoor air quality and sustainable interior design. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a top green building standard.) This is for good reason: these areas can account for many points in the LEED rating system. But don’t overlook waste management, which also plays a key role in LEED certification. There are four different certification levels: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Waste management credits could be what enables you to achieve the next level of certification.

In the case of new commercial building construction, the keys to gaining LEED waste management credits are sustainable management of construction materials and creativity with resources. Here are the credits available and tips on how to get them:

1) Prerequisite: Make Recycling Available
Requirements: Newly constructed LEED buildings must establish and maintain, at a minimum, recycling programs for paper, cardboard, glass, plastics, and metals.
Tips for Achievement: This item is required before a building can even be considered for any Materials and Resources credits. The good thing is that recycling programs can be easily established through either a third party provider or in many cases by working with the city or region the new LEED building is located.
2) Credit: Construction Waste Management Diversion
Requirements: 50% of construction waste diverted from landfills equals 1 point. 75% of waste diverted from landfills is worth 2 points.
Tips for Achievement: Part of this credit states that a construction waste management plan must be written and adhered to. This is for the benefit of the company, as these credits are going to be much easier to receive if a company does their homework and finds options prior to beginning construction. Some ways for companies to divert waste can include making agreements with local charitable organizations to donate unused or unsuitable materials, working with the right recycling provider to provide bulk containers for recycling, and making is a pre-requisite for construction companies to provide diversion options in the bidding process.
3) Credit: Materials Reuse
Requirements: Using 5% salvaged, refurbished, or reused materials in new building construction is worth 1 LEED point. Using 10% of these materials is worth 2 points.
Tips for Achievement: This credit offers a great way for companies to both find cost savings and use their creative sides. Reused materials can include anything from structural beams to flooring to decorative items, so there are many ways to achieve this credit. Reusing beams and posts from another building both utilizes local resources and can be more cost effective than working with virgin timber or steel. Reusing materials from another structure with historical significance (flooring, doors, decorative items) can improve community relations and provide a human interest side to your new construction project.

Top Ten States For LEED Green Buildings per Capita, 2011

Sq. ft. of space to earn LEED-certification in 2011

Per capita

District of Columbia



























New York







Source: US Green Building Council, via Sustainable Facility

Anna Munie is a freelance writer currently working within the fields of sustainability and environmental health and safety management. She has 10 years of experience in hazardous waste management and is a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM). When not developing sustainability programs and making sure the Ph.D.’s in her research department don’t blow themselves up, she competes nationally with her horse Lucky in the sport of reining.


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