Construction Waste and Landfill

The construction industry, which is responsible for building new homes, offices, roads and infrastructure in the UK, is a major source of waste that ends up in landfill sites. It produces something in the order of 100 million tons of construction waste annually, some from the demolition of old buildings and some from excavation of sites to put in foundations for new buildings and structures. This represents almost 35% of all the waste produced in the UK each year.

The construction industry is understandably keen to reduce this contribution to the nation’s waste output, particularly as 13 million tons of it is deposited in landfill sites, without any recycling or treatment. In 2008, the UK government and leaders within the construction industry got together to review the problem, and agreed to embark on an initiative to reduce the amount of construction waste going to landfill by half. And the target date to achieve this was set at 2012.

Progress on Halving Waste to Landfill

The new initiative, Halving Waste to Landfill was launched officially in October 2008 and, in March 2011, the organisations involved produced their interim report to show what progress had been made. In her introduction to the report, Dr Liz Goodwin, Chief Executive of WRAP, the organisation facilitating the waste reduction, announced that 600 organisations within the UK construction industry have already signed up.

Organisations that have committed to the project include main contractors and subcontractors, such as Sir Robert McAlpine, and also waste management companies and contractors, clients, suppliers and manufacturers, designers and other related organisations. Some will reduce the amount of waste they send to landfill by far more than 50% but, overall, this will help the industry sector achieve its target by 2012. It also means that further improvements beyond 2012 are likely to be achievable.

The Scale of WRAP Assistance

The organisation WRAP is crucial to this initiative and it is guiding the industry on methods of good practice and new tools to use to make the changes necessary. One thing that has proved very useful is the setting up of standard contract wording that construction contractors and their clients can use when planning projects. These agreements then take on board the need to reduce waste as an integral part of every new project. Having these goals and ambitions in mind at the start helps focus the whole project, so that waste reduction remains a major priority.

WRAP has also developed a range of tools that are available online for managers within the construction industry to use when looking for ways to reduce their production of waste within a project. This is complemented by another tool that shows exactly what waste is still being produced and where it is coming from, so that their clients can see how waste is being recovered effectively. The emphasis is on re-using and recycling waste as much as possible, and this tracking system can often reveal new opportunities to do that.

How Much Less Waste is the Construction Industry Producing?

The figures show that real reductions are happening. In 2008, the reports from the companies and organisations who had signed up to the initiative early on shows that they produced around 11 million tons of waste; 3 million tons of this ended up in a landfill site. In 2009, slightly less waste was produced overall, and significantly less of what was produced went to landfill – so in this year, less than 1 million tons of waste ended up being buried in landfill. Calculations show that, overall, this was a decrease of 44%.

Sir Robert McAlpine’s Waste Reduction Efforts

In one of the case studies of the report, the company Sir Robert McAlpine is used to show just what can be achieved. This is a large civil engineering company that works on roads and other infrastructure as well as building projects. Since embarking on the project, the company has managed to cut the amount of waste that it produces within projects by almost a quarter and has reduced the amount of that waste that it sends into landfill sites by a further 13%. It now builds waste reduction objectives into all of its contracts, and is well on target to achieving the full 50% reduction by October 2012.