Cutting construction and demolition waste

The construction industry accounts for a significant slice of the UK's total waste and an organisation charged with the task of tackling that head on, WRAP, outlined its role in reducing this waste stream.

Sustainability, climate change, energy and use of resources are all big news and, as the UK construction industry annually consumes more than 400 million tonnes of materials and generates more than 100 million tonnes of waste, there is increasing pressure on the industry to reduce materials use and recycle more. This poses a number of questions – what are the best ways to do this, how should the industry go about it, and what support is available?

WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) has turned its focus to providing support, advice and resources to help the industry make more efficient use of materials and become more sustainable. WRAP’s construction programme aims to improve resource efficiency through three key components: waste minimisation and management; increased materials recycling; and advancing the procurement and use of recycled materials.

As 60-80 per cent of building waste can be re-used or recycled, there is a great opportunity for the construction industry to make a significant difference in reducing its waste. Wastage from over-ordering and material off-cuts can be reduced through planning and smarter logistics. Effective segregation of waste that does arise on site can also significantly reduce the amount of waste that ends up at landfill.

Material generated by construction and demolition activity accounts for almost 30 per cent of the UK’s total annual waste. Materials such as aggregates, timber, plasterboard, glass, PVC and other plastics may have the option to be re-used on site, but all can be recycled at an appropriate recycling facility.

A way forward

The time is right for change in the construction industry and the Sustainability Forum, together with WRAP, is calling on the industry to achieve a 50 per cent cut in materials waste going to landfill by the year 2012. There are many opportunities for construction contractors to make cost savings and to reduce waste – establishing good waste minimisation and management practices will make a significant difference.

The implementation of Site Waste Management Plans (SWMPs) is one way the construction industry can achieve these savings. Currently, the adoption of SWMPs is voluntary, but they are expected to become mandatory for projects worth more than £200,000 in 2007. Research, commissioned by WRAP in early 2006, showed that only 11 per cent of the top 800 construction companies used SWMPs, and only three per cent were following the DTI’s 2004 guidelines for implementing SWMPs. So, there is a great opportunity for the industry to improve its performance and make significant gains in terms of sustainability.

WRAP can provide help and guidance on implementing SWMPs to promote efficient management and segregation of waste for recycling. Currently, the typical value of materials thrown away in the average skip on a construction site is around £1,100, which when transport, handling and initial purchase cost of the waste materials are included, means the true cost of waste is more than 15 times the hire of the skip. The implementation of a SWMP means that contractors can keep accurate records of the levels of waste being produced, from where it is being generated, to how much it is costing to dispose of. Armed with such knowledge, contractors are best placed to look at the opportunities available to reduce waste, recycle more – and cut their costs.

The DTI’s guidelines for SWMPs encourage contractors to introduce waste segregation. Segregating waste on site offers greater potential for recycling and can also result in cost savings, as it’s cheaper to dispose of a single waste material than mixed waste. Materials can be segregated in many ways; for example using just three skips: one each for hazardous waste, specific material for the current build phase and mixed waste. A more effective process where space is available is to have a skip per material.

Materials recycling

The recycling industry is growing rapidly and, as demonstrated, the construction sector offers an abundance of recyclable materials. A key consideration for the industry is ensuring that the UK has the capacity to recycle the materials and the equipment is suitable for producing a high quality end product.

WRAP is providing capital support to recycling companies to improve and expand their recycling processes, ensuring that more materials are recycled for higher value uses. This will ensure demand for materials for recycling as well as developing markets for the end products.

Mike Watson, Head of Construction at WRAP, is leading the organisation’s work in the construction sector. He comments: “The construction industry as a whole has a great opportunity to become more sustainable and the time is now right to do something about it. One of the most important things that organisations can do is measure their waste and implement a minimum requirement for waste reduction.

“WRAP can provide assistance and guidance to help the industry towards implementing more sustainable practices. Through examples of best practice, product guides and toolkits, making these changes should be easy and there are many environmental and financial benefits the industry can gain. With WRAP at hand to help, organisations can make a smooth transition in the direction of implementing waste reduction and recycling.”

Available support

WRAP is working to support the entire construction supply chain, from clients, designers, specifiers and contractors to waste management companies and recyclers, to improve sustainability across the industry. Improving awareness of the issue and what can be done is a key part of WRAP’s work. WRAP can provide examples of best practice, step-by-step guidance, capital grant funding, tools and specific advice on the efficient use of materials and recycling to help individual companies implement change.

The construction sector also has the opportunity to close the recycling loop, through the use of recycled content products in new build projects. WRAP can also provide practical support for contractors to reduce waste and increase the overall recycled content of a new build.

By making changes to existing practice, the whole construction supply chain can make significant progress towards a more sustainable future.

For further information contact WRAP on 0808 100 2040 or visit

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