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In 2014* the UK generated 55.0 million tonnes of non-hazardous construction & demolition waste, of which 49.4 million tonnes was recovered. This represents a recovery rate of 89.9% and is great progress for our industry when we were targeting “Halving waste to landfill”.  What we now must consider is how to move to a world with zero waste.

The true cost of waste in a construction project is often underestimated. When material and labour costs are factored in, costs can exceed £1,300 per tonne. It is estimated by Zero Waste Scotland that 13% of raw materials ordered are discarded unused. This represents a significant drain on the profitability of our industry. 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; damage by mishandling materials; off-cuts; inadequate storage of materials; and unnecessary packaging of construction materials, e.g. plastics and cardboard.

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:

  • Prevention
  • Re-use
  • Recycling
  • Other recovery (such as energy recovery
  • Disposal

The implementation of lean construction principles will help drive down both wasted materials and wasted time.  Product manufacturers can take simple steps such as re-usable packaging, product take back schemes and the use of recycled materials in the products manufacture.  As designers we can look at designing out waste before we even get to site.

Designing out waste is one of the key elements of lean construction and the circular economy.  In the construction sector we operate largely within a linear economy model, which assumes resources are abundant and we can make, use and dispose of them without consequences.  This is clearly not the case and many clients, policy makers and main contractors are now grappling with how best to ensure that resources to flow in a circular way, eliminating waste wherever possible.

(*2014 is the latest year for which figures are published by DEFRA Feb 2018).