Zero Operational HVAC Waste + Embodied Carbon

I’m working with several clients that have zero operational waste goals that are tied to reductions in embodied carbon. One of the objectives of these zero waste programs is to integrate waste generated as part of typical O&M activities into a circular economy. A good example is a building operator at an NBA arena asking if there was a way to avoid sending their larger 4" and 12" HVAC filters to the landfill.

First, does anyone have specific information on how to push filter waste away from the landfill?

Second, has anyone had success working with manufacturers or organizations like the Ellen MacArthur foundation to develop products and processes that can be integrated into the circular economy? I think it would be great to be able to hand building operators a playbook on how to achieve zero waste goals within building O&M programs.

Any thoughts and ideas are welcome!

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Hi Brian

I don’t have any answers for this, but I would be very interested in knowing what you do find.

My sense is that solving this issue will require manufacturer co-operation, ideally to produce filters that are biodegradable and can be composted rather than landfilled. This only works in places with commercial compost programs (no home compost pile would be hot enough) but that covers at least part of the problem and hopefully the scope of these municipal composting programs will grow over time.

Feel free to reach out if you want to chat about this:

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Hi, Brian

In the process of developing EPD’s for our HVAC equipment, we have had the opportunity to analyze the full lifecycle of our air handlers, chilled beams and other products. The EPD shares information about what to do with the product at the end of it’s life, This knowledge is complemented by refurbishment offerings to extend the life of the product. Read more at Environmental Product Declarations |

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K&N Filters had a booth at Greenbuild this year and could be a good solution. I haven’t seen their re-useable filters in action for a building but they have a great reputation for automotive. Logistics to use washable filters at a building would be different and might make sense to purchase 2 sets of filters: one for in use and then swap with backup while the other is cleaned and dried. I haven’t seen any comparison to life cycle analysis of this approach though.

Thanks Marshall! We’re going to try the K&N reusable filters. They have a free filter program allowing facilities to test performance and usability. Link to filter information and the filter pilot program is here:

Thanks Mike! Thanks for directing me to the EPDs Swegon has generated. It’s great to see you’ve analyzed the impact of Module C end-of-life impacts and pieces of Module B for residential. That really helps our teams understand the longer term emissions and environmental impacts of equipment selection. One thing that seems to be a tougher metric to track are those Module B use-stage data points. I think that’s where we’re struggling as an industry to capture emissions and embodied carbon related to O&M. It’s probably a drop in the lifetime emissions bucket, but something that we’ll eventually get to.

Hi, Brian! Module B Use Stage is getting easier to calculate as well. Our air handlers and ERVs are certified by Passive House Institute (Passive House Portal Component Database), which certifies the total connected energy consumption of the entire device - fans, heat exchanger motor, controls, losses - all while the unit is operating at the device rating point. The metric of interest is Watts per CFM (W/CFM), and can be used with grid data to calculate Module B performance.