Am I wasting my time?
Peter Kelly is head of sustainability for ISG’s construction business and represents the CIWM Construction and Demolition Waste Forum.
Waste is a huge global issue. In the UK alone, we produce circa 50 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste every year.
It’s a situation that’s untenable and, traditionally, the construction sector has been a major culprit. But things are changing. The industry is making progress in reducing waste and realising tangible rewards through reducing consumption, re-using resources and recycling redundant materials.
So what are those rewards? Clearly there are environmental benefits to reducing waste, but the outcomes can be measured in very favourable financial terms too.
According to case studies from WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme), an average 0.4% of construction project costs can be saved by effective waste reduction. That figure may seem small but as a percentage of a £25m project value it equates to a saving of £100,000.
Of course, not all projects are multi-million pound schemes, but the principle of reducing costs, while delivering environmental benefits makes sound commercial sense on any scale.
The financial incentives simply become more compelling for higher value schemes and, as build costs are more expensive in London than anywhere else in Europe, and second only to New York worldwide, there is an urgent imperative to engage effectively with clients, designers and the supply chain to prioritise waste prevention and re-use to drive down waste.
It’s essential that an effective approach to waste management is embedded in the scheme from the outset, which means prioritising those principles across both the upstream and downstream delivery chain. Waste reduction can only be achieved if we engage not only with suppliers and re-use/recycling providers, but also with designers for better material resource efficiency outcomes.
To communicate effectively with architects about the importance of waste reduction we need to articulate the imperatives in terms that are relevant to their role. Optimising materials, avoiding over-specification and considering the lifespan of construction materials will all help improve resource efficiency if they are aligned to quality design principles and effective design coordination.
The advent of BIM, a greater acceptance of off-site manufacturing techniques and the growing use of Cross Laminated Timber present even more opportunities for optimisation of construction materials to be designed into projects not to mention the green shoots of the Circular Economy.
The construction sector continues to provide a dynamic environment where change is constant. When it comes to waste reduction, the catalyst for change was WRAP’s Halving Waste to Landfill campaign, which was launched in October 2008 and completed with a final report in 2014.
The report highlighted that the amount of CD&E (construction, demolition and excavation) waste landfilled in 2012 was 119 tonnes/£m construction output; lower than the 2011 total of 140 tonnes/£m construction output but still far higher than the target of 66.5 tonnes.
As is so often the case, however, the statistics only tell half the story. Much of the total waste figure was due to the amount of excavation waste (soils) landfilled, so the report’s authors concluded that any target setting should exclude excavation waste. Based on C&D waste alone, landfill reduction stood at 29% by 2012. Not quite the 50% target set, but still an excellent result.
And it wasn’t the only excellent result. Other outcomes noted in the report included:
- The amount of concrete and mixtures sent to landfill decreased by 500,000 tonnes (from 1.7 million tonnes to 1.2 million tonnes) and a proportion of this reduction will have been beneficially reused.
- The amount of wood landfilled dropped by a staggering 90% from 48,000 tonnes to just 5000 tonnes. This result helped shape Defra policy in abandoning a proposed ban on wood waste being sent to landfill.
- Mixed C&D waste landfilled was reduced from 1.2 million tonnes to 500,000 tonnes.
- The proportion of hazardous CD&E waste sent to landfill decreased to 5%.
- The construction sector paid an estimated £1 billion in landfill tax from 2008 to 2012 but made cost savings of £144 million by diverting CD&E waste from landfill.
This government-led campaign gained more than 800 signatories to support the reduction in C&D waste sent to landfill of 1.5 million tonnes over a period of four years.
For forward focused construction companies like ISG, embracing the waste reduction challenge as part of our sustainability commitments has also delivered much wider benefits across the supply chain, site management, contractor costs and client budgets.
While the industry has now been tasked with implementing waste reduction to achieve a defined target without a clear framework for delivering those goals, the benefits for contractors, delivery partners, suppliers and clients are clear; let’s not waste any more time in working towards achieving those targets.
ISG’s Peter Kelly has been a member of a group focused on reducing waste in the construction sector for the past eight years and was one of the authors of the report, CD&E WASTE: Halving Construction, Demolition and Excavation Waste to Landfill by 2012