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Reducing waste in construction

They say: waste not, want not – but these are not words that society always lives up to today.
 
  • We produce more food than we consume (close to one third of the world’s food production is lost or wasted each year).
  • We generate an alarming amount of electronic waste – equivalent to discarding 800 laptops every single second
  • And we throw away a concerningly large amount of single-use plastics, much of which ends up in our rivers, oceans, and eventually in the food on our plates.
 
But waste isn’t just a household problem. As well as performing poorly as a nation, construction and demolition is responsible for roughly 40% of Australia’s total national waste production – with one third of this waste going straight to landfill. 
 
Here we explore some of the ways we can reduce the production of waste in construction.
 
It’s all in the planning…
 
Good planning can reduce construction industry waste, and improve the success and impact of waste management practices from much earlier in the construction process.
 
Better estimates – Bringing good quantity surveyors into the design of construction projects can improve materials estimates, save money and reduce unnecessary project waste. 
 
Design out excess – Improving the utlilisation of construction materials through design is another effective way to reduce waste. Where possible avoid over-design and the use of excess materials, and design projects to standard building structure and materials dimensions.
 
Re-use and recycle – Construction waste typically includes materials like timber, concrete, plastics, wood, metals, cardboard, asphalt and mixed debris – a lot of which can be recycled and re-used. During design, consider which materials you can feasibly reuse or recycle. Also remember to factor in any costs and logistics for removing and transporting recycling waste from site.
 
Sustainable construction – Incorporating offsite manufacturing (prefabrication) and modular construction techniques into design can dramatically reduce waste and improve the sustainability of construction projects. As much as 77% reductions in waste can be achieved through offsite construction.
 
Work with your supply chain – Find out if it is possible for materials to be supplied in recyclable packaging, and encourage suppliers to reduce the use of unnecessary packaging. Negotiating “buy back” terms with suppliers can also help to reduce project waste. And when projects do allow it, save any leftover materials for future projects.
 
Working waste-consciously
 
Waste management planning is critical to achieving good waste practices on site. But the work doesn’t end there – it takes a concerted effort to deliver sustainable construction practices on site. Here are some of the ways we can improve waste reduction once construction starts.
 
Education – Success for any initiative increases greatly when people understand and support what you are trying to achieve, so educate your workforce on your waste management goals. Communicate waste reduction targets with employees, contractors and subcontractors. And involve team members in setting goals and identifying waste reduction opportunities.
 
Site design – To encourage the adoption of waste management practices, design your worksite for success.
  • Establish dedicated waste sorting areas, easily accessible for transporting waste off site.
  • Provide adequate facilities for storing all reusable and recyclable materials.
  • Ensure clear signage to communicate required and desired behaviours.
 
Support local – Seek local businesses and community groups – like trade and vocational colleges and men’s sheds – that may welcome the use of scrap materials. 
 
It’s good for business, too
 
According to a recent study, 21-30% of all construction project cost overruns come from materials waste. We know that waste reduction is good for the environment, but reducing construction waste can be good for business too:
 
  • Focusing on waste can drive more efficient use (and lower spend) on materials.
  • Less waste also means reduced spend on waste removal, and better environmental regulatory compliance (reducing the cost of non-compliance).
 
If you are committed to improving your performance and reducing the environmental impact of your projects, make waste reduction a priority. Set targets for your own business and your project partners to achieve through effective waste reduction strategies. And remember to benchmark your performance before you begin, so you can measure the difference that you make.
 
Is waste reduction a priority for your business? Have you reduced what you send to landfill? Please share your thoughts and feedback via LinkedIn.
 

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