How to comply with building-waste rules

The construction industry produces one third of the UK's waste. This month, the DTI's Site Waste Management Plans come into force in an attempt to curtail this. Kevin Stanley outlines what companies need to do to comply, and how the scheme can in fact save a business money

Uniquely, the construction industry has to deal with almost all of its products at the end of their useful lives. And therefore waste figures generally include demolition waste as well as inventory shrinkage. Yet it remains an irrefutable fact that the UK construction industry is wasteful.

The Building Research Establishment (BRE) estimates that the sector currently consumes 375M tonnes of resources a year and produces more than 100M tonnes of waste a year. That's roughly one third of all UK waste; much of which goes to landfill.

As the cost of Landfill Tax steadily increases, the UK construction industry has to pay more to dispose of its waste. The current figure is an estimated £200M a year.

In 2004, the DTI launched Site Waste Management Plans (SWMP) to assist companies involved in construction and demolition works to minimise their waste. It was intended as a voluntary code of practice.

Now, from 1 April, SWMPs are a legal requirement in England for all projects of more than £300,000. Those of more than £500,000 will require a more detailed plan. The legal responsibilities for this plan lie with both the client and the principal contractor. "The aim of these plans is to improve waste management practices, encourage resource efficiency and ensure environmental protection and reduce waste crime such as fly-tipping," says Katherine Adam, a senior consultant at BRE.

To help the industry, BRE has developed the SMARTWaste Plan tool. This is a web-based system that allows the user to complete a SWMP in a step-by-step approach including writing, implementation and review. It also includes an integrated measurement system allowing waste to be monitored and figures on waste production and management routes to be reported automatically at both a project and company level.

The aim of an SWMP is to identify the key factors in managing and reducing waste such as the person responsible for waste management on-site, the types of waste generated, waste management options for those waste streams, the use of appropriate contractors, and a plan for monitoring and reporting the quantity of waste.

A well researched and well written SWMP will afford your business control of the risks relating to waste on your site and act as a mechanism to demonstrate to clients and environmental regulators how you are fulfilling your responsibilities.

Currently, any business that produces, imports, transports, stores, treats or disposes of controlled waste has a duty to ensure that it is disposed of safely. It is therefore already the legal obligation of construction companies to consider its duty of care.

Mandatory SWMPs, however, mean that construction companies will have to consider resources at an earlier stage than perhaps they would have previously. This means they are more likely to reduce waste at the front end of a project.

Construction company Taylor Wimpey has been benefiting from SWMPs for some time and believes making SWMPs mandatory is positive as it will create a level playing field across the industry.

Production manager Rob Pannell says SWMPs will work in support of other schemes his company is already undertaking. "Each of our business units has a waste champion to promote policy change and best practice," he says. "GeorgeWimpey has reduced the tonnage of residual waste produced per unit of housing completed from 9.7 tonnes in 2003 to four tonnes in 2007. SWMPs will assist this reduction in waste tonnage further."

But Pannell also envisages problems with one of the key reasons behind mandatory SWMPs. He says: "The threshold level of £300,000 means that many small companies won't be affected, and these are the ones most likely to cause fly-tipping."

It is an important point. Defra says fly-tipping in the UK costs the taxpayer £50M a year, and that 40% of illegal tipping includes construction waste. The Environment Agency says it costs an estimated £100-£150M a year to investigate and clear up fly-tipping, and that one third of all incidents they dealt with in 2005 involved construction and demolition waste.

To some businesses, environmental schemes or regulations can often seem overbearing and forced upon them. These companies may be worried that the cost of implementing SWMPs will present potential financial problems. But when considered carefully it is actually easy to see how using SWMPs will save businesses money.

Defra's cost benefit evaluation indicates that costs vary from 0.01% on large projects to 0.7% on smaller projects, of overall project costs. These are set against benefits of between 0.2% and 1.7%. Therefore, if implemented correctly, businesses should expect to make significant savings through adopting more efficient practices.

Mike Payne of construction specialist and government-funded Envirowise, says: "An in-depth practical guide is available from our website and provides companies with an excellent starting point. The guide details the financial case for SWMPs and provides step-by-step guidance on their production and effective implementation. We are also offering training and support."

Envirowise recently provided support in managing on-site resource efficiency to building contractor Knox & Wells. On a project worth about £250,000 (just below the threshold) Knox & Wells has proved how taking a systematic approach can really help smaller companies overcome obstacles in waste management and make savings as a result. Not only can SWMPs help firms bolster their bottom line, they demonstrate a real commitment to reducing environmental impact. Bob Jennings, health, safety and environment administrator at Knox & Wells explains: "By conducting a pre-works site survey as part of our SWMP, we were able to identify all available opportunities to manage and minimise waste.

"Our approach involved the removal of materials such as timber, plaster and masonry on a sequential basis to create segregated waste streams. Our efforts were definitely worthwhile as we were able to reduce our waste management bill on the project by 57% - from more than £8,000 to little more than £4,000, including savings of more than £2,300 through waste segregation alone."

Construction company Crest Nicholson is also keen to buy into environmental policies and to realise the benefits. Waste Manager for the company Malcolm Hart says: "SWMPs are an important step-change in construction sector thinking and will be of significant benefit to the wider industry. Sustainability and the environmental importance of managing site waste is a relatively new concept but making SWMPs mandatory is positive as it will encourage people to think outside of the box far more than usual.

"For example, a new device - The Chipper - reduces plasterboard waste by compressing off-cuts and increases skip capacity by 30-50%, in turn reducing transport requirements, which reduces carbon emissions.

"Any construction company should remember the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. These principles are core components in any waste plan and will affect the bottom line only in the most beneficial sense. The enforcement of SWMPs will help reduce costs and increase profit margins, but they will also guarantee far better control of the regulatory risks relating to materials and their disposal on construction sites.

"Instigating an effective SWMP is a necessity for any company with a long-term outlook and the penalties for failure to comply are likely to be severe. Landfill space is limited and the government doesn't favour incineration, so we have very few options left."

Kevin Stanley is a freelance journalist

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