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How is the construction sector combating their waste?

As the effects on the world become too great to deny, we’re seeing more and more focus turning towards the level of waste produced globally. A widespread understanding that this isn’t sustainable has led to various sectors looking for ways to address their own waste issues.

Allan Sandilands, principal consultant at Resource Futures.

The UK’s biggest consumer of natural resources, Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) reports, is the construction industry. According to the study, the sector uses 400 million tonnes of material every year, which results in 100 million tonnes of waste being produced. To put this in context, this level of waste contributes over a third of the UK’s total yearly waste amount.

The issue of waste in construction

On the issue of the construction industry’s waste, Allan Sandilands, principal consultant at Resource Futures, suggests that the lack of media coverage is a contributing factor to the limited public response to the sector’s waste problem.

Where plastic pollution has been heavily documented in regard to its effects on wildlife, Mr Sandilands notes no such coverage has occurred for the construction industry, which he refers to as the “silent sector.”

With poorly enforced compliance measures, inconsistent procurement clauses, and a prevalent theme of passing the responsibility from clients to contractor, Mr Sandilands concludes that the construction sector is failing to meaningfully manage its waste responsibly.

Without a proper understanding of the benefits of recycling and reusing materials, the construction sector is unlikely to change and adapt its waste-based behaviours. WRAP highlights how the construction sector is missing out on more than just the benefit of reducing waste levels, showing how tackling construction site waste can help to:

  • Save natural resources
  • Keep compliant with legislation
  • Reduce CO2 emissions as well as waste levels
  • Reduce costs of purchasing materials by reusing materials instead
  • Bring in money by collecting and recycling materials

What can be done?

The main way the construction industry can adapt its attitude towards waste management and reap the benefits is for companies to understand the need to better manage the current waste output of the firm, as well as earlier planning and involvement throughout the supply chain. It is important to consider waste management as an ongoing process, rather than just a result.

A best practice approach for companies looking to change their view and management of waste involves minimisation. Through efficient material usage and limiting waste generated, companies can aid in waste management before waste contractors are even involved in the process. A basic run-down of such an approach includes:

  • Pre-design — Outline the goals the company wishes to achieve as part of its updated waste management process.
  • Design and Procurement — Review the current process and highlight any missed opportunities or areas of improvement. Draw up a Site Waste Management Plan (SWMP) in order to keep track of waste, as well as noting opportunities to minimise waste.
  • Pre-construction — Use KPIs and efficient site set-up to ensure best practice on-site.
  • Construction — Continuous monitoring, as well as feedback, is vital at this stage.
  • Post-construction — Review process and any feedback from on-site staff.

Creating a detailed SWMP can help to reduce on-site waste by up to 15 per cent, which translates to 43 per cent less waste heading to landfill. It might sound like a large additional task to carry out, but it will help streamline the project in the long term.

Plus, companies can speak to a waste management supplier in regard to creating a SWMP; such suppliers will be able to advise on the best ways to segregate waste material, which skips will be needed, and how to safely dispose of any hazardous materials.

At a basic level, construction companies can also look into ordering processes, to make sure the company isn’t over-ordering on any material — looking back at similar past projects and assessing the end waste can be an effective way of predicting the need for material. A review of storage facilities can ensure the materials last as long as possible.

Of the waste that is generated, look to see if off cuts can be used in place of ordering more materials. Alternatively, explore the option of selling or donating unused materials in the event that they cannot be returned.

Of course, if the waste material cannot be reused or repaired for reuse, recycling is better than disposal. If a company has an outsourced waste management provider, it will be able to help advise on this. Recycling is the best option for the environment, but it can also save money on landfill tax.

Up-and-coming waste innovation for construction

While there’s plenty of avenues available to the construction industry for reducing and addressing waste, the future looks bright too.

The World Economic Forum (WEF)reported on a potential new building material that would assist another source of waste by making use of it as a raw material — the use of food matter. In fact, WEF reports that some companies have already begun to tap into this resource; the use of mushrooms for creating bricks in a tower construction, building materials made out of corn cobs, wheat and even banana plants, pineapple as a leather substitute, fabrics from citrus peels. If these ideas catch on, the issue of construction waste could be combated hand-in-hand with waste from other sectors.

Reducing waste is of paramount importance to all sectors, and the construction industry is a key figurehead in the UK’s waste total. As such, it is the responsibility of the sector to do as much as possible to reduce, reuse, and recycle its materials wherever possible.

23 October 2019

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