Sustainable Construction and Waste Management Leads to Savings

Sean Lockie
Environmental issues remain high on the agenda following the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. The construction industry can reduce its environmental impact by implementing strategic waste management planning.

The current economic climate has not stopped the construction industry's massive draw on resources - some 400 million tonnes are used annually. 13% of these are never used and are consigned to waste.

Purchase cost of the delivered materials
Cost of waste storage, transportation and disposal
Loss of not selling waste for salvage or not recycling
Fig 1 - The true cost of waste

The implementation of the Site Waste Management Plan Regulations in April 2008 has raised awareness of waste quantities and disposal methods. However basic levels of compliance have been the main priority in many projects to date.

More can be achieved. Consider these additional measures:

At the onset of a project, the legislation requires clients to:

  • define their needs
  • establish contractual obligations in the tender documentation
  • set realistic targets for waste reduction
  • set targets for recycled content within the final structure

Good practice in resource efficiency can be achieved when this information is cascaded throughout the design team:

  • Initiate an effective waste minimisation and management process
  • Focus on materials recycling
  • Set targets for the procurement of materials with recycled content

Setting targets at the beginning of a project and communicating these to the whole project team allows proactive planning to be undertaken and documents such as the Site Waste Management Plan (SWMP) to be initiated.

Consider these measures:

  • Building form - size and space to eliminate unnecessary elements
  • Design flexibility - consider future expansion or adaption
  • Off-site fabrication - use of pods to reduce waste produced on site
  • Materials procurement - establish systems such as ‘just-in-time' procurement procedures, take-back of unwanted materials and the storage of onsite materials

A recycled content target is set by the client at the beginning of the project. Designers can research recycled content materials with the required performance characteristics, most of which will have no additional cost impacts on the project. This not only reduces pressure on resources but also supports a market for recycled materials.

A waste minimisation and management process is straightforward to develop and implement, need not impact on design and costs and can lead to significant benefits:

  • Reduced cost - through fewer materials ordered and less material disposal costs
  • Sustainability targets - enables developers and contractors to meet client's targets
  • Planning requirements - helps meet the sustainable requirements requested in planning submission
  • Reduced emissions - for every 1 tonne of plasterboard recovered, 4.2 tonnes of CO2 is saved
  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda - Allows real performance to be quantified

The WRAP information on Achieving Good Practice Waste Minimisation and Management provides guidance to construction clients, design teams and main contractors.

The WRAP document Choosing Construction Products (PDF, 1MB) provides a guide to the recycled content of mainstream recycled contents.

We take a proactive approach in the preparation of Site Waste Management Plans, engaging with the design team at the earliest stages, to minimise waste from the outset.