The US Gypsum Supply Chain: Demand is Up But Production is Dwindling
Industry Watch at Resource Erectors- June 2022
“According to Isabelle Kavanagh, sustainability engineer at BuroHappold in New York, current estimates indicate a very low recycling rate for gypsum and data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that just two percent of the millions of tons of gypsum waste produced annually is recycled into wallboard.” –GYPSUM RECYCLING PRESENTS CHALLENGES- AmericanRecycler.com
The US Construction Boom is Fueling Competitive Drywall Recycling
Terry Weaver, owner of USA Gypsum Drywall Recycling in Denver, Pennsylvania, pointed out in the American Recycler article above that gypsum drywall recycling in the U.S. is currently limited with only “a handful of successful gypsum recycling” operations in the US. But as we’ll see the US housing boom may just change that limited capacity, and not a moment too soon.
Weaver’s company recycles new gypsum drywall trim (scrap) for further use in agriculture. Portland cement, concrete, mortar applications and wallboard manufacturing are more high-demand sectors that can benefit from gypsum recycling as well. But why has drywall recycling become so important in 2022?
“It is a topic of conversation in the industry, especially with landfills facing more and more scrutiny around hydrogen sulfide gas emissions that result from landfilling drywall. Based on these concerns, we believe drywall recycling will have a significant upside in the near term.”-Matt Dunyon director of operations at DTG Recycle
In 2022 American industry is feeling the pressure to make gypsum recycling a priority, and those industries are responding, most notably in the residential construction sector. And with good reason.
The USGS reports that just one typical new American home can contain more than 7 tons of gypsum alone. According to the research site Statista, the projected number of single-family housing unit starts in 2023 is estimated to be over 1.2 million.
So single-family homes will require at least 8.4 million tons of gypsum and those new homes are just one fraction of the overall US construction industry that consumes vast quantities of gypsum.
Other gypsum applications include:
- Concrete for highways
- Soil conditioner for suburbs and farms
- Topsoil and compost mixtures
Coal Mines and Synthetic Gypsum
Diminishing gypsum production is directly linked to the dominant green trend of coal mine shutdowns and environmental obstacles that block expanded gypsum mining operations.
Coal mines produce synthetic gypsum and diminishing production due to coal mine shutdowns is taking its toll on the US gypsum supply chain. As a relatively low-value commodity, gypsum is expensive to transport so supplemental imports of gypsum generate supply chain expenses that set the high price for recycled gypsum to beat.
“Reduced production is offset by imports which are subject to supply chain and transportation costs. Gypsum reclaimed from drywall will increasingly be viewed as a competitive source.” -Terry Weaver, USA Gypsum Recycling
Recycled Drywall and Diverting Gypsum From Landfills
Most of the gypsum that ends up in landfills is from the demolition of old buildings where discarded wallboard is unsorted, not “source-separated” in the construction and demolition (C&D) process.
Sustainability engineer Kavanaugh noted that not only is a valuable resource going to waste, but there is the hazard of decomposing gypsum that produces noxious hydrogen sulfide that can harm those who live near landfills to be considered.
Terry Weaver broke down where 42 million metric tons of recycled gypsum end up when it’s diverted from landfills.:
- 10 percent for Portland cement manufacturing
- 36 percent for agriculture and miscellaneous
- 53 percent goes for wallboard and plaster production
With transportation costs spiking in 2022, combined with the ongoing construction boom, more builders are source separating drywall and the gypsum recycling infrastructure is expanding to meet demand. Matt Dunyon, the director of operations at DTG Recycle reports that his company has experienced a noticeable increase in volume from builders and drywall installers due to the current construction boom.
For builders, source separating can reduce contaminants, mainly by keeping it out of mixed C&D waste containers on the job site. When mixed with other construction waste materials, and when it gets wet, most of the gypsum can’t be recovered and it can contaminate other materials to the point that they are rejected for use as alternative daily cover (ADC) in landfills. Further, when drywall scraps are sorted mechanically they are lost to C&D process screens.
Raising the Bar For Gypsum Recycling
The Construction and Demolition Recycling Association (CDRA) is taking action to make the best use of gypsum recovered from the mountains of construction waste that would otherwise end up in landfills.
The CDRA formed a gypsum recycling committee that includes gypsum drywall manufacturers, contractors, recyclers, and building owners to move the expanding gypsum industry forward. Their stated mission is to provide guidelines and set the standards for recycled gypsum that’s sold to wallboard manufacturers, and to develop and expand recovery and end markets for recovered gypsum.
Part 2 Preview
Gypsum recycling is just one of the emerging industries that we support at Resource Erectors. In Part 2 of Construction Materials Recycling on the Rise we’ll take a look at the concrete and asphalt recycling sector. In the meantime you can take a look at the career opportunities we have available now in these innovative industries at the Resource Erectors job board, where six-figure salaries for industry professionals in sales, logistics, management, and engineering abound.
About Resource Erectors
We specialize in heavy industry human resources at Resource Erectors and we bring decades of experience to the table when it’s time to fill essential professional vacancies in your organization.
We have the recruiting and candidate placement experience you need when you’re building your dream teams in gypsum, construction materials, recycling, mining, sand, concrete, aggregates, manufacturing, civil construction, bulk materials, and industrial engineering in every way shape, and form.
Raising the bar for the heavy industry workforce is our mission at Resource Erectors. For the top professionals in heavy industry sectors, we have positions available with competitive salaries commensurate with your talent and experience offered by North America’s industry-leading companies, so don’t hesitate to contact Resource Erectors to fast track your heavy industry career today.