Laying Waste To Waste

Ian Wakelin, CEO of Biffa, looks at the construction sectors’ approach to waste

The UK construction industry continues to prosper, with an estimated £90 billion annual contribution to the UK economy. As the number of projects and demand for materials and aggregates increases, so too will the amount of waste generated by the industry at every stage of the construction supply chain.

When considering the issue of waste in the construction industry, the focus is often on waste generation at large building project sites. The Site Waste Management Plans (SWMP) Regulations were first set out in 2008, the same year that the government outlined its Strategy for Sustainable Construction, pledging a 50 per cent reduction of construction, demolition and excavation (CD&E) waste to landfill by 2012 compared to 2008 levels.

Although the SWMP Regulations have since been repealed and are no longer a legal requirement, the use of SWMPs is still considered good practice and promoted by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) as a useful guide for managing waste on large building projects.

However, building sites only represent one part of the construction supply chain. Before construction products have even arrived on site, they have already been through manufacturing, storage and logistical processes that generate their own waste. While this end of the supply chain is arguably less visible, it still has a key part to play in waste reduction and achieving industry government targets.

The construction products industry has a £40 billion annual turnover and comprises the companies that create and supply the materials for building and refurbishment projects. It accounts for more than a third of total construction output, which is expected to grow by 18 per cent by 2017. The products include bricks, ceramics, concrete, flooring, insulation and aggregates to name a few.

The amount of waste generated specifically by the construction products manufacturing industry is a sizeable proportion of the 40 million tonnes of waste that are generated overall by the construction industry according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

While large construction sites have – at least until recently – been forced to consider their approach to resource efficiency and given a standardised framework with which to plan their waste management with SWMPs, it has not always been the same story for construction product manufacturers.

A 2011 Action Plan report on the delivery of targets for the Strategy for Sustainable Construction highlighted that insufficient attention was often given by product manufacturers to resource efficiency and more steps needed to be taken to ensure it was on track. Research on the joinery industry, for example, showed that yield rates from a section of timber can often be as low as 20 per cent, suggesting that significant amounts of wood are being wasted.

However, there are now an increasing number of government and industry body resources to help guide construction product manufacturers in their processes and ensure greater efficiency in the manufacture, storage and transportation of products impacting on the waste they generate along the way. While not enshrined in law, they provide a much-needed benchmark.

Resource Efficiency Action Plans (REAPs) are now available to download from the WRAP website for 11 popular construction products including flooring, clay bricks and building insulation foam. Each plan sets out a series of actions which can lead to a reduction in product waste and improved resource efficiency, encouraging the development of closed-loop manufacturing within the sector.

In some cases the plans have been developed in partnership with a product-specific trade body, such as the Contract Flooring Association, and many are reviewed on an annual basis to ensure they are up to date.
Work has also been undertaken by WRAP to increase the recycled content of construction products and its online Recycled Content Database enables construction professionals to search for materials containing recycled content and manufacturers to promote these kinds of products. Specifying products with higher recycled content is a simple and cost-effective method of meeting a project’s sustainability targets and is increasingly popular with contractors.

As the initiatives illustrate, effective waste and resource management strategies are based upon much more than collecting and recycling waste – the entire product manufacturing process must be taken into account and examined closely.

At Biffa, we work together with a number of leading construction product manufacturing companies at quarries and plants across the UK to audit their processes from beginning to end and identify points where efficiencies can be made. Working with environmental managers and procurement managers at their company facilities, we walk through the process step by step to understand the waste generated at each stage and how this can be reduced.

The construction waste strategy for England is now the Construction 2025: Industrial strategy for construction. It outlines the benefits of offsite construction as a method for significantly reducing construction waste. The Government Green Construction Board (GCB) is working to drive procurement efficiency, which will encompass construction products, with expected targets to be outlined in due course.

As the government and industry associations continue their mission to improve the construction industry’s green credentials and increase efficiencies, working with an expert waste management partner enables companies to have a much clearer insight into the steps they can take to play their part and ensure less waste is sent to landfill

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