Pre-fab building could cut construction waste by 90%

Making components from timber frames to kitchens off-site can significantly reduce the overall amount of waste produced by the construction industry.

This was the finding of a report published by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) this week which compares the waste levels of existing off-site construction with those of traditional methods and looks at areas where there is scope for growth.

According to the research, off-site manufacture already offers the construction industry benefits in terms of time and cost predictability, health and safety and skills.

However, the report suggests that there is the potential to make a significant difference to the amount of waste the industry produces.

Some of the biggest waste streams in traditional construction are packaging (up to 5%), timber (up to 25%) and plasterboard (up to 36%).

Up to a 90% reduction can be achieved by reducing wastes such as wood pallets, shrink wrap, cardboard, plasterboard, timber, concrete, bricks and cement by increasing the use of off site manufacture and modern methods of construction.

The report also identifies the key off site manufacture and modern methods of construction systems that offer significant opportunities to reduce waste levels on site, including:

  • prefabricated kitchens and bathrooms;
  • timber frame systems;
  • light steel frame systems;
  • structural insulated panels;
  • pre-cast concrete systems

    The work also investigated sectors, which currently use relatively low levels of off-site manufacture, such as retail, the NHS, schools and private housing. Results showed that there is the potential to make substantial reductions of waste in these sectors, especially with so many large-scale projects in progress.

    Mervyn Jones, WRAP's construction programme manager for waste minimisation at WRAP said: "Off site manufacture has already been shown to provide a number of benefits to the construction industry, but we wanted to develop firm evidence that confirmed the potential benefits in terms of reducing the amount of waste the industry contributes to landfill.

    "The results of the work are very positive and clearly demonstrate the opportunity to reduce waste through the uptake of off site manufacture and modern methods of construction, especially in some of the UK's landmark projects, such as the Olympics, Thames Gateway and in single or key worker living projects.

    "Increased use of off site manufacture and modern methods of construction could help the industry take serious steps towards achieving the target of reducing waste to landfill by 50% by 2012."

    Decisions to use alternative construction methods to reduce waste can also form part of Site Waste Management Plans, which are expected to become mandatory in 2008, helping to demonstrate a contractor's commitment to minimising waste at the outset of a project.

    Sam Bond

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