Reducing Waste in the Built Environment


In 2018, the United States generated over 600 million tons of construction and demolition waste, fueled by increasing housing demand and a lack of viable recycling markets. This problem is acute in the Triangle, where 4,700 new units of residential construction were built between Summer 2020 and Summer 2021 in Durham County alone. With support from a local design-build firm, Haven, and nonprofit, Circular Triangle, this project uses a waste assessments report and custom waste calculator to investigate the social and environmental impacts of landfilling waste, to suggest opportunities for waste diversion in the built environment, and to communicate these results to policy makers to drive government support for circularity in the Triangle. Findings from our study suggest that while untapped opportunities exist for waste diversion, a paradigm shift in legislation, attention, and financial incentives is needed to make circular systems a reality in the built environment.

Using an analysis of two accessory dwelling units under construction in Durham as a lens to articulate Haven’s current waste management efforts, this study found that Haven’s waste generation at the two sites is already 7% better than what is expected from the industry benchmark. To communicate broader impact and demonstrate tangible benefits of improved waste management to Haven, it is important to translate these waste numbers into global warming potential. Our carbon emissions analysis speaks to reduced environmental impact across the board if viable alternatives to landfilling waste can be scaled up and implemented. The recommendations outlined in this report, while specifically focused on these two units are broad enough to also be applied to the wider residential construction market.

Recommended next steps:

-Communicate the need for alternative marketplaces for waste​  -Encourage waste measurement & engage suppliers​  -Get policy support to build out the marketplace infrastructure for diversion​  -Coordinate waste hauling





Seyler, Meghan, and Andy Zou (2022). Reducing Waste in the Built Environment. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.