What’s arising – a mixed picture?

A lack of reliable data on construction waste arisings is clouding judgement on whether recovery targets can be met without additional policy measures

Opinion is split among industry experts over whether more legislative action is needed to meet construction and demolition waste recovery targets, according to the Government’s first consultation stage on the revised Waste Framework Directive (WFD). The revised WFD, which is due to be transposed into UK in December, sets out a number of measures to tackle non-hazardous construction and demolition waste including the recovery of 70% of this material stream by 2020.

To determine the scale of this challenge, Defra has been working with industry representatives to establish reliable data in order to give a clear picture of construction, demolition and excavation (CD&E) waste arisings, recovery and disposal in England. While this work is not yet complete, current data indicates that the CD&E industries produce around 120M tonnes of waste a year with 25M tonnes going to landfill.

A simple calculation suggests that over 70% of CD&E waste is therefore already being recovered in England. Meanwhile figures for Wales – from an Environment Agency waste survey – show that the CD&E sector produced 12M tonnes of waste in 2005-6, of which over 1M tonnes was sent to landfill. This indicates that Wales has already exceeded the target as well.

That said, uncertainties around non-inert waste arisings and the exact quantity of CD&E waste going to landfill mean that nothing can be confirmed until Defra’s work on CD&E waste data is complete. The research also needs to take into account that the target set out in the revised WFD excludes naturally occurring material such as soil and stones, which further complicates the picture.

There are also a number of policy and legislative drivers in place that are geared to improving further the minimisation, reuse, recycling and recovery of CD&E waste. The landfill tax and aggregates levy offer a clear financial incentive to reuse and recover waste materials while the requirement for all construction projects in England costing over £300,000 to have a site waste management plan (SWMP) is driving sustainable resource use. Voluntary measures outlined in the Sustainable Construction Strategy are also helping.

No need for action?

All things considered, Defra doesn’t believe that additional action on CD&E waste in England needs to be implemented in order to achieve the target set out in the revised WFD. In the first stage consultation document on the revised WFD issued last July, Defra stated: “If we reach our domestic target of halving CD&E waste to landfill by 2012, and maintain that position into the future, we should comfortably meet the 70% recovery target set out in the revised WFD.”

It added: “Subject to the outcome of our work on CD&E waste data, we propose continuing with our current action plan in this area, and reviewing in 2012 whether additional policy or legislative measures are at that point necessary to meet the revised WFD target.”

As part of the consultation, two questions were set – firstly if respondents agreed with Defra’s assessment, and secondly if they thought any additonal policy or legislative measures needed to be introduced to guarantee the target being met in England and Wales. Responses to this paper were published in March and showed that while the majority of respondents agreed with the assessment, many believed the quality of data currently available needed to be improved and questioned its reliability – especially on a regional or local scale.

Set site thresholds lower

While some thought the SWMPs would be useful for gaining a better understanding of waste arisings, others noted that the threshold for which SWMPs apply is too high and that a large number of smaller projects are not captured. A small number of local authorities recommended that the SWMP system should be used to collect data on waste arisings, and that there should be a legislative requirement to provide this data although no suggestions were made as to who the requirement should fall on.

As to the second question posed, over half of all respondents thought that additional policy and legislative measures would be needed to meet the targets. This view was held across all sectors, with the exception of trade associations, although most did not give a reason for their position. A number of respondents noted that statutory targets should be used for the C&D sector and explained that these could be supported by education and guidance focussed particularly on SMEs.

A response from both Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council noted that: “Statutory targets should be imposed … smaller developers are still not recycling as they should and are being carried by the excellent progress made by larger developers. Statutory targets worked effectively for the household waste stream and helped kickstart recycling programmes, and this could have the same effect in this sector.”

Throughout the private sector group, there was a balanced opinion of whether additional measures would be required, with around half believing that new measures would be required and half believing that the current system was fit for purpose. Those who wanted more drivers suggested various measures including the introduction of compulsory protocols, revising thresholds for SWMPs and revising the landfill tax.

The next stage of the transposition process of the revised WFD involves a second consultation offering stakeholders the chance to comment on the draft regulations that the Government plans to use to transpose the directive into domestic law.

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