When abandoned cable leaves the building, where does it go?

From nearly all indications, the level of activity within the communications cabling industry is in a period of sustained growth.

Sep 1st, 2004

From nearly all indications, the level of activity within the communications cabling industry is in a period of sustained growth. That is, if six months qualifies as "sustained," which I believe it does these days.

Some research conducted by CI&M echoes the sentiment. Earlier this summer, we surveyed a sampling of our subscribers whose business is cabling-system contracting. Among the questions we posed was one asking about the total number of projects carried out in 2002 and in 2003, and another asking about how many are on track to be completed this year. The numbers trend consistently upward. Among those we surveyed, 7% completed more than 200 projects in 2002. That number grew to 19% in 2003. And 24% expect to surpass the 200-project mark this year.

Another question we asked regarded the nature of the work, specifically with regards to maintenance or moves/adds/changes (MACs). About one-fourth of our audience said that 20 to 29% of their revenues come from MACs. And 11% said that more than half of their revenues come from this type of work.

That combination of data, coupled with the documented slow pace of commercial construction, tells me that many of today's projects are upgrade/retrofit jobs rather than new-construction jobs.

One of the real implications of retrofit jobs nowadays is the existence of abandoned cable. In this month's issue, both Richard Anderson (page 8) and Donna Ballast (page 12) address the topic. Anderson, of Boise, ID contracting firm Data Cabling Service, aims his message at fellow contractors, talking about the business opportunities that exist if they embrace rather than avoid the issue. Ballast, who previously has written about the topic from a code perspective, uses her column this month to provide hands-on advice about actually ridding a building of its abandoned cable.

One element of Donna's column particularly caught my eye, and I'd like to report on the nanosecond of research I conducted into it. She advises everybody removing abandoned cable to "plan to safely dispose of the reclaimed materials by using a recycling company or center. Verify that the recycling company will be able to take all of the materials, and at what pace they can accept deliveries."

Curious about the practice of recycling used cable, I Googled the phrase "recycling UTP cable." No matches.

I tried searching a different phrase, just to see if anything would come up. "Recycling communications cable" also returned zero matches. Concerned, I tried "recycling paper," "recycling glass," and "recycling cable." Those efforts returned 18,400; 7,710; and 248 matches, respectively. As I began looking at the 248 matches for "recycling cable," I realized that many of them were municipalities' Web sites, in which their recycling programs and cable TV service happened to be mentioned near each other on the same Web page.

Now disappointed, I tried Google's news-search capability, where "recycling cable" returned two matches. One was an August news story out of the Herald-Argus in Laporte County, IN. It tells of a commercial enterprise called Cable Plastics Reclaiming Inc., which specializes in exactly what I was looking for. In the story, a county commissioner states that Cable Plastics Reclaiming will be able to keep 50 million pounds of materials out of the local landfills annually.

A little more research turned up a news report that the recycling firm received $1 million up front from the municipality to help get the company off the ground last year, and now pays the municipality a fixed price per ton of material recycled.

While cable-abatement services are on the rise, cable-recycling activities are far from mainstream. I implore all those who are dealing with abandoned cable, either as property owners or removal contractors, not to dump the cable into the local landfill. Some of the compounds in that old cable are just plain hazardous.

Entrepreneurial types will see to it that there are centers in which these materials can, in fact, be recycled.

Patrick McLaughlin
Chief Editor
patrick@pennwell.com

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