Moving to a circular economy: waste is a resource
Moving to a world with zero waste
In 2016* the UK generated 66.2 million tonnes of non-hazardous construction & demolition waste, of which 60.2 million tonnes was recovered. This represents a recovery rate of 91.0% and is great progress for our industry when we were targeting “Halving waste to landfill”. However we must now move to a world with zero waste.
We need to think about the bigger picture as we become more aware globally about the impacts of our throwaway culture. It is estimated that by 2050 there could be more waste plastic in the ocean than fish and that if everybody used resources at the same rate as an average EU resident, we would need 3 planets to sustain ourselves.
The true cost of waste in a project is often underestimated.
It is estimated by Zero Waste Scotland that 13% of raw materials ordered are discarded unused. With many main contractors struggling to make 2% profit margins we need to understand that by reducing waste we will increase our efficiency and profitability.
Most waste is produced on-site through: over-ordering; ordering the wrong thing; damage by mishandling materials; off-cuts; inadequate storage of materials; and unnecessary packaging of construction materials, e.g. plastics and cardboard.
In addition, reducing our consumption of raw materials and being more efficient with what we use results in a wide range of environmental and social benefits associated with the consumption of fewer resources and the disposal of waste products. Clearly there is a cost saving too.
(*2016 is the latest year for which figures are published by DEFRA -March 2019 update: UK Statistics on Waste).
Waste Management - Sustainability Short
A short animation on how to prevent and reduce waste on site.
The waste hierarchy
We can all play a role in tackling these problems. As a sub-contractor, simple changes on-site to reduce, re-use and recycle your construction waste can bring many benefits. This is what we refer to as the waste hierarchy, a useful guide for the sustainable treatment of waste, prioritising waste treatment in the following way:
- Other recovery (such as energy recovery)
- Disposal, usually to landfill
A paradigm shift is needed when we think about the resources we use, away from a linear take, make, dispose approach to a cycle which uses products or materials that have reached “end of life” as inputs to produce the next generation of products that we need. There is also the need for thinking laterally and choosing different materials or different product/service models that bring resource efficiency benefits.
A simple construction example of this might be using aggregates made from old crushed concrete or blast furnace slag, instead of virgin aggregates from a quarry or dredged from the sea, in the production of new concrete.
This approach is called the circular economy and you can find out more about this concept in the School’s resources.