Construction projects now consistently achieve average recycling rates of nearly 70%, but the last few percentage points present the biggest challenge. O’Donovan Waste Disposal’s Jacqueline O’Donovan explores whether zero construction waste to landfill is really possible CIWM Journal Online Exclusive
The construction industry’s opinion of waste has come a long way in the last decade and it has significantly changed its approach, coming to realise the value of construction waste by reusing and recycling. The real advancement of the construction industry’s attitude to waste came, in part, from the need to identify key opportunities for managing waste effectively with a Site Waste Management Plan (SWMP). Regulations for SWMPs have now been retracted but they reshaped construction teams’ way of thinking, encouraging consideration of such things as waste size, products and waste types, teaming up with a reliable waste partner or designing the project with recycled or recyclable products in mind.
This means that the UK already recycles a relatively high proportion of construction and demolition (C&D) waste, compared with other EU countries, achieving 66.4% in 2012. Some projects have even recorded landfill diversion rates of more than 90%. The average rate is predicted to increase to 75.5% by 2020, an optimistic estimate, which is nonetheless in-line with the Waste Framework Directive. The directive has set a 2020 recycling rate target of 70% (by weight) for reuse, recycling and other recovery of C&D waste.
It has also been forecast that the amount of C&D waste in the UK will rise by an average of approximately 3% each year to just less than 133 million tonnes in 2020. Couple this with the shrinking capacity of existing landfill sites and it becomes clear that the UK C&D industry must do more to recycle the maximum amount of the waste it produces, through improved design and procurement decisions, while also thinking of the impact of future refit or demolition activities.
Design: A Growing School Of Thought
Designing for deconstruction is a growing school of thought in the construction industry, which enables buildings to be more efficiently dismantled at the end of life. Architects and specifiers are asking greater questions of the products they plan to use, including the origins, recycled content and recyclability. By doing this, products or techniques that result in high levels of waste or difficult to recycle materials are “designed out”, helping to save energy and resources and divert more waste from landfill. Rigid plastics are an example of one material that waste management companies can struggle to find a reprocessing outlet for, but it’s used extensively in construction projects and has an important value in terms of the resources used in its manufacture.
Over the last decade, there have been significant advances in recycling process which enable more diverse construction materials to be recycled such as carpets, mattresses, plasterboard etc. However, the challenge moving forward is getting a more national spread of these specialised facilities to make recycling these materials economical and sustainable – often distances recycling is required to travel to reach a reprocessing plant makes it unviable due to costs and environmental impact.
Meanwhile, increasing the proportion of recycled content in construction projects can have a two-pronged benefit. Such decisions not only enable the sustainability of a project to be improved, but also help stimulate demand for and increase the value of construction waste, making reuse, recycling and recovery even more important.
While zero construction waste to landfill might not be entirely possible yet, we can get extremely close – to the last few percentage points – through a combination of design, procurement, construction techniques and recovery processes. To achieve this, there needs to be more joined-up thinking by all parties involved in delivering a construction project. Waste should be thought of at the outset, with appropriate planning to ensure its value is maximised as a recoverable, reusable or recyclable commodity. Expert partners should be utilised to ensure the highest possible recycling rates are achieved. Everyone from the architect to the waste management partner can play their part and by doing so we can build a greener image for the construction sector.