25 January 2017

According to the Wates Group, the UK construction industry creates more than 100 million tonnes of waste per year, with much of that ending up as landfill. While organisations within the industry have taken measures to reduce the amount of waste being produced and/or committed to landfill, there is clearly still much that needs to be done.

United Kingdom

In the UK, the construction industry is the highest producer of waste:

  • We are responsible for 32% of the UK’s landfill.
  • In 2010, the total demolition and construction waste for England was approximately 77.4 million tonnes. 20 million tonnes of which went to landfill.
  • By the end of 2011, the largest offender at illegal waste dump sites was construction related (CD&E).
  • Every year, over 400 tonnes of materials are delivered to site and of that, approximately 60 million tonnes goes straight to the tip. This is often the result of materials having been over or wrongly ordered or damaged as a result of poor storage practices.

According to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affair’s document, “Digest of Waste and Resource Statistics – 2015 Edition” while efforts have been made to reduce the industry’s contribution to our waste problem, very little has been achieved.

European Union

From 1996 until 2006, construction and demolition waste grew from 1.52 million tonnes to 16.83 million tonnes in Ireland. This put them at the second highest producer of waste, at 55% of total. In the years that have followed, Ireland has managed to decrease the amount of waste produced, partly as a result of changes in the economy and fewer number of houses being built.6 According to the 2011 National Waste Report7, Ireland’s construction-related waste has been reduced from an all-time high of 17.8 million tonnes in 2007 to approximately 3 million tonnes in 2011.

For the EU as a whole, the EU Commission estimated that construction and demolition waste accounted for between 25% to 30% of the total waste generated each year.

one glaring, immediate problem is that we are running out of places to put it [construction waste].

The immediate problem

The problems arising from our over production and accumulation of construction waste are several-fold; however, one glaring, immediate problem is that we are running out of places to put it. There is also that pesky issue of cost; the more waste a project produces, the more negative the impact it has on the profit margin. Some companies approach this by factoring in waste from the beginning; however, that is a selfdefeating method that is becoming increasingly unacceptable as the globe pushes to find a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly way to build and produce things.

The solution

When we talk of the solution to construction waste, a lot of things spring to mind; however, the solution can actually be boiled down to a single term: material efficiency. For this conversation, material efficiency is defined as:

[The] process of undertaking a building project to enable the most efficient use of materials over the lifecycle of the building and its components. (Note: This includes using fewer materials, reusing existing demolition/strip-out materials and, where appropriate, procuring materials with higher levels of recycled content. It also includes following the waste hierarchy to avoid and reduce waste wherever possible).
Inherently, a focus on material efficiently will reduce the amount of waste produced within any given project. And, the earlier that focus begins, the bigger the potential for cost savings. As an added “bonus”, early implementation of a material efficiency-minded strategy also results in a lesser impact upon the environment and a reduction in natural resource depletion. So, it’s a win for us and a win for the planet.

BS 8895, designing for material efficiency in building projects

When fully published, the BS 8895 series will consist of four documents. Two documents are already in publication.

  • The first document, BS 8895-1:2013, was published in 2013. It is entitled: “Designing for material efficiency in building projects – Part 1: Code of practice for Strategic Definition and Preparation and Brief. It covers Stages 0 (Strategic Definition) and 1 (Preparation and Brief) of the RIBA Plan of Work.
  • The second part came into effect on 31 July 2015 and is entitled, “Designing for material efficiency in building projects – Part 2: Code of Practice for concept and developed design. It covers Stage 2, Concept Design and Stage 3, Developed Design of the RIBA Plan of Work.

The final two parts in the series are scheduled for release at a later date. They are:

  • Part 3: Code of practice for technical design
  • Part 4: Code of practice for operation, refurbishment and end of life

Supporting documentation

As with most codes of practice and standard documents, the BS 8895 document suite should be read in conjunction with several reference documents. The BS 8895 documents cite the following supporting documents as essential:

  • The RIBA Plan of Work
  • WRAP, Designing out waste: a design team guide for buildings
  • BS 7832, Performance standards in building – checklist for briefing – contents of brief for building design*

*Please note that, while BS 7832 is cited in the documents, it was withdrawn on 31 July 2015 due to a conflict with BS 8536:2010. There was no replacement document issued. BS 8536:2010 was also withdrawn on 31 July 2015 and has been superseded by BS 8536-1:2015, Briefing for design and construction – Part 1: Code of practice for facilities management (building infrastructure). We recommend that you read BS 8536-1:2015 in place of the withdrawn BS 7832.

Material efficiency as part of a sustainability strategy

In order to optimize the use of materials at every stage of a project, a material efficiency strategy should be part and parcel of a project’s overall sustainability strategy.

Business case for sustainable building

The World Green Building Council’s “The Business Case for Green Building: A Review of the Costs and Benefits for Developers, Investors and Occupants”11 presents evidence that shows, amongst other things:

  • When sustainability strategies are woven into every stage of a building’s lifecycle – starting from preparation and brief – that building saves money and resources over the long term.
  • Especially in areas where green building is main stream, sustainable builds attract more tenants, can demand higher rents, and have a higher sale/resale value.
  • As a result of water and energy savings, operating costs for green buildings over the long term are usually proportionally far less than their non-green counterparts.
  • There is a visible correlation between improved employee productivity and health and the improved indoor environments afforded by adopting sustainable building practices.

Most importantly:

  • The design and construction of green buildings doesn’t necessarily have to cost more, especially when strategies are put into place at the very beginning and are intricately woven through the project fabric at every stage.

Sustainable materials lifecycle

When looking at material efficiency and sustainability strategies, ideally, the first place to start is with the materials themselves. While there are a lot of questions to ask when determining whether a material is sustainable, the short answer is that sustainable materials are those whose
creation/production/distribution: does not deplete nonrenewable resources, has minimal (if any) adverse effect on the environment, and creates minimal waste. Sustainable materials are long lasting and can be used, recycled, renewed, or responsibly disposed of at the end of their life cycle. Sustainable materials also take human factors into consideration; ethical working practices are an important part of the sustainability equation.

Factors to consider when selecting materials include:

  • Design and manufacturing: selecting materials that use fewer raw resources and whose production process produces less pollution and waste.

  • Distribution: sourcing materials locally and/or closer to home wherever feasible. This can require some creative thinking, but it can also result in not only cost savings but innovative design.
  • Use: selecting sustainable materials that can provide an optimal service life. At its core, sustainable means lasting. Products that do not last are not truly ‘green’, no matter what their production and design.
  • Maintenance: green building is about selecting products that do not last/wear out quickly or need regular upkeep (repainting, retreating, etc.), especially if said upkeep produces waste or environmental negatives of its own.
  • Disposal : here’s where issues like reclamation, reuse and recycling come into consideration.

Designing Build Wiki provides some good information on sustainable materials, including tools and techniques, project management, and good sources for additional guidance.

Order what you need. Use what you order.

Of course, a project strategy that sources sustainable materials but mismanages those materials cannot realistically consider itself sustainable. Materials efficiency means that situations where materials are wrongly or over ordered and/or damaged as a result of improper storage are eliminated. A good materials efficiency strategy must take into account the impact that every decision will have on materials needed and used and provide an audit trail.

The earlier the better

Construction waste costs money, and the only feasible way to address it is to produce less of it. While each stage of a building’s lifecycle presents new opportunities in regards to reducing waste, as the BS 8895 Code of practice documents rightly assert, to see the greatest impact, a solid, well-thoughtout materials efficiency strategy should be put into place as early as possible – during the planning and design stages.

Communication and collaboration is essential

No matter what stage of a project you’re in, in order for a materials efficiency strategy to work, proactive information sharing and collaboration is essential. While this is something inherent in the BIM working process, it is, historically, not the way the industry mind is geared to work. So, the final element of a good materials efficiency plan is a step change in traditional thinking. Fortunately, there is a lot of guidance out there to help you get started.

This short article was repurposed from 'Construction waste and sustainability' written for the Construction Information Service.

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