Effort to tackle construction waste builds momentum

Whilst it might be the second largest source of waste in the country, Government seems slow to tackle the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of rubble, timber and plasterboard coming out of the nation's building sites every year.

This was the argument put forward by Rachel Woolliscroft, group environment manager for developers Wates Construction, when she spoke at a conference hosted by Construction News magazine on Wednesday.

She went on to say that even if Government did not take the lead, the industry had a duty to tidy up its act, bombarding delegates with shocking statistics of the levels of waste created by construction.

“The waste problem is mostly out-of-sight, out-of-mind and buried in a landfill, but it is a huge thing,” she said.

“16% of construction materials are never used. All of that disappears down and environmental black hole.”

Elsewhere in Europe, said Ms Woolisscroft, the industry was recycling up to 90% of its waste and for the UK to follow suit it ought to be a simple case of adopting good practice.

“In reality, the knowledge and expertise are already in place,” she told the conference.

“The biggest piece of the jigsaw that’s missing is the will to change within the construction industry.

“Regulation and legislation has attempted to reduce waste going to landfill but [municipal] consumer waste has been such a focal point for Government, even though it only makes up 10% of the country’s waste, that other sectors have been left behind.

“For construction, the messages lack strength and are unclear which suggests that Government does not view us as a priority area.

“The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, for example, says all large construction sites must have a waste management plan but there are no set targets or specific requirements for that plan.”

Wates itself has decided to face up to its waste and aims to get to a point where it is sending no non-hazardous waste to landfill by 2010.

“We’ve decided to make a change ourselves. It’s a huge issue for us,” said Ms Woolliscroft.

“Waste costs us a huge amount of money plus every one of us in the industry has a responsibility to change. Our vision is to provide and injury free, waste free working environment.”

She said construction companies which were willing to address the issue could get support, advice and even outlines for waste management plans from organizations like WRAP and Envirowise.

Convinced it is the right thing to do, socially and environmentally, Wates has already seen the benefits of an improved reputation as well as saving money and ensuring compliance with existing and future legislation.

Simple-to-introduce solutions such as focusing on commonly-wasted materials like plasterboard and installing colour-coded skips for different waste streams on construction sites was a good place to start, said Ms Woolliscroft.

There were hurdles to get past, she said, such as persuading builders to change their habits and start recycling, but these could all be overcome.

“There are difficulties,” she said.

“Changing the minds of 200 operatives on a site is a challenge but they come round and get behind it.

“After all, we recycle at home, so why not at work.”

Sam Bond

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