With the possible exception of professional drywall installers and plasterers, no one likes working with drywall. It’s heavy and crumbly and hard to cut cleanly. And don’t even start about taping and mudding—nothing but mess and dust. But, 15 million pounds of drywall is produced in the U.S. every year. Most of it goes on walls, but around 15% is leftover waste. What should be done with it?
Drywall is essentially gypsum (calcium sulfate) and water that is spread on paper backing and kiln-fired in 4 x 8-foot- (or 10- or 12-foot) long sheets. Calcium sulfate is a natural mineral that actually has beneficial properties in your lawn or garden soil. It is also reclaimable and a portion of the drywall sheets you buy at the home center is likely derived from recycled drywall. But, few if any curbside recycling programs allow drywall—so that means you have to do some legwork if you are a recycling advocate. It is possible, though and here’s what you need to do: Inquire about bulky materials via a recycling clearinghouse such as 1-800-RECYCLING.
You can also re-purpose drywall by peeling off the paper—just start at one corner and pull: it comes off pretty easily—and crushing the gypsum back into powder form. Then spread it on your garden or lawn. Although it is very similar to limestone (the principal additive that is used to lower soil pH into the alkaline category), it takes a lot of gypsum to alter your soil pH. But the gypsum does have a beneficial effect on the tilth of the soil (“tilth” is a gardener’s term describing desirable soil workability).
You can also add crushed drywall (with the paper backing removed) to your compost bin. It does not impact the nutritive qualities of the compost, but again it adds tilth to the compost. Be aware, though, that decomposing drywall gypsum is notoriously smelly.
If you are a DIYer, it makes some sense to keep a few usable scraps of drywall around for making repairs. Otherwise, you’ll end up having to buy an entire 4 x 8 sheet to make a relatively small repair. And, if you are a creative type, know that the paper backing on drywall takes paint very well and you can use drywall as a canvas for your artwork.
So, the bottom line on leftover drywall is really just to get rid of it. If you are keeping some, store it in a dry space since drywall (expect for the special mold-resistant kind) is a hospitable host for mold and mildew. Garbage haulers generally will take it if it is broken down and bagged up. But, if you are eco-conscious, call 1-800-RECYCLING and see what you can work out.