It’s Better to Plan What to do with Construction Waste Before you Create it

Inefficient waste management is a major problem for the construction industry that results in lost revenue and the squandering of resources. The barriers to changing this are complex and involve many players outside the construction industry itself. However, we can proactively influence the amount of waste produced and the end destination of discarded materials. As the cost of materials rise and our landfills reach capacity, a move to a circular approach to reusing waste materials will become inevitable. Our clients and local authorities are increasingly expecting us to proactively move towards this goal.
According to WRAP, the construction and demolition industry accounts for 60% of all materials used and creates 33% of the waste in the UK. In 2014, Construction News reported that of the 400 million tonnes of materials delivered to sites, 60 million went straight to landfill simply through over or incorrect ordering, poor handling and breakages.

The waste hierarchy, which all waste producers are legally required to follow, provides a preference order for the end of use options for discarded materials.

First preference should be given to waste prevention. This is most effective at the design stage, when low-waste alternatives such as modular construction can be considered. Designers should also use standard sizes where possible to reduce off cuts.

Material selection should also consider the potential to include those that have recycled content.

At demolition stage a pre-demolition audit can identify materials that can be reused and some local authorities actually mandate this before construction commences. The reuse potential increases if the programme length allows time for a ‘soft-strip’. By taking extra care, items such as door sets and bricks which can have salvage value, can be re-used. Other materials such as steel, plasterboard and glass can go back into the material stream to provide the feed-stock for new products. Some product manufacturers’ such as Saint-Gobain, are proactively working with contractors to identify opportunities to take reusable waste materials from sites.

Once on-site, options to reduce waste are more difficult but things to consider include:

  • Use offcuts where possible and re-use items such as shuttering and scaffold boards
  • Consider using material ‘take-back’ schemes for plasterboard, insulation and paint pots
  • Educate site operatives that clean ‘waste’ has much higher resale value than dirty
  • Segregate the waste by type whenever possible. Separate, uncontaminated, waste streams can generate revenue or at least reduce skip cost

Plan Ahead

The best way to ensure all re-use options have been explored is to plan ahead. By creating a ‘programme of waste’ that shadows the programme of work you can identify which waste streams will be produced when.  This foresight will allow a description of the type and amount of waste to be posted on a re-use portal on the Internet, such as’ Loop’ or ‘Globechain’. These sites match waste materials with charities or other businesses that want to have them. Other than the cost of the listing they are free for sites to use and the ‘waste’ will be collected at a day and time convenient for the site. The Globechain site provides a detailed report of who took the waste and what it was used for. These stories can provide useful CCS points, positive PR for clients and provide bid teams with material to help win points in tenders.

Osborne has moved to recording the waste produced on sites, and the skip costs onto an online portal called Smartwaste.  This is to allow each business to have oversight of how each project is performing and to identify areas where marginal gains on waste management costs can be made.

Another influential factor is that we allocate the responsibility for most of the waste generated on our projects, to our sub-contractors. Therefore, part of this journey will include educating them about the potential to become more efficient and cost effective with waste management. A first step will be ensuring that all their waste is entered onto the Smartwaste portal.

Osborne is committed to the goal of waste reduction. We are using three live projects to refine our approach to waste planning and to quantify the potential benefits from greater reuse.

Work is ongoing but we’re happy to share what we’ve learned to date:

  • Have a plan of when different types of waste will be produced so that suitable outlets can be identified and scheduled ahead of time.
  • Plan the handling and storage of waste materials to maximise resale value.
  • Use letsrecycle.com to estimate the resale value of any salvaged materials.

Obviously, this is a journey. It’s one we are determined to take and to share as we go.

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