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Making waste work: Time to reduce, re-use, recycle

The global construction industry produces a massive 109m tonnes of waste each year – that’s around a quarter of the entire world’s waste.

It’s not surprising, then, that the European Union has set a target of recycling 70 per cent of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste by 2020.

It’s a tough challenge and many will no doubt consider whether it is even achievable, but there are practical steps contractors can take to tackle the problem and deliver efficiency and cost savings.

‘Reduce, re-use, recycle’ is a phrase many are familiar with, but what does it actually mean in practice? Put simply, it’s about using raw materials more efficiently to generate less waste in the first place, and finding uses for whatever waste we do generate. It is more straightforward than it seems.

Growth area

There are many schemes out there to help contractors responsibly dispose of the waste they generate on site with minimum disruption and cost.

These schemes typically work by putting the waste material directly back into the manufacturing process, a practice area in which manufacturers are increasing their investment. These materials are becoming more commercially viable than ‘virgin’ raw materials.

“Understanding the sustainability and particularly the recyclability of products is important”

This long-term view has a practical benefit that contractors can take advantage of by opting for products that have the best schemes in place for them and their project.

Understanding the sustainability and particularly the recyclability of products is therefore important and not just from a waste management perspective, but also because clients and end-users are demanding greater transparency of every material used during a project.

This could be a huge job, but Environmental Product Declarations help contractors see which products meet the performance needs of a project, and can contribute to any BREEAM, CEEQUAL or Home Quality Mark accreditation they are working towards.

 “There are steps that contractors can take to minimise waste generated on site”

EPDs validate the integrity of the product being specified and cut out the time to research exactly what it contains, how it was made and, especially, what happens to it at its end of life.

Bespoke solution

At a very practical level, there are steps that contractors can take to minimise waste generated on site in the first place, by working with manufacturers that offer bespoke products to order.

This is just one example of an initiative designed to eliminate waste that also helps to reduce product costs as well as time on site.

Whether looking at methods to minimise waste generation or re-use waste product, the key is undoubtedly to find a way to make it the commercially sound choice for the long term.

This is something contractors and manufacturers can work towards alone, but the real step-change will come when we work collaboratively right across the supply chain.

Heidi Barnard is the head of environment at British Gypsum



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