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All businesses produce some waste, but by far the largest waste stream generated in London, for example, is construction and demolition (C&D) waste, also known as builders waste. Construction, demolition and excavation (CD&E) including dredging, generated around three fifths (62%) of total UK waste in 2018, compared with 12% household waste, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) statistics. In 2018, the UK generated 67.8 million tonnes (90%) of non-hazardous C&D waste.
Construction businesses, and that includes all built trades people such as builders, tilers, plumbers, plasterers, electricians etc., have a legal responsibility under the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011, the Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2005 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990, to ensure that they produce, store, transport and dispose of their business waste without harming the environment. This is called their duty of care.
What is construction waste?
Construction waste is any material or matter that is produced as a result of any form of construction work, and that is discarded.
This waste can be a mixture of surplus materials resulting from:
- Road works.
- Site clearance.
Construction waste includes an enormous variety of materials, some of which can be recycled, repurposed, or reused, and a few that cannot. In addition to this there are some waste materials which are hazardous in nature.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that “waste is hazardous when it contains substances that are harmful to human health or the environment, although it is not required to have an immediate effect”.
Some examples of hazardous waste include, but are not limited to:
- Chemicals, such as brake fluid or print toner.
- Equipment containing ozone depleting substances, such as fridges.
- Hazardous waste containers.
- Oils, except edible ones, such as vehicle oil.
How to dispose of construction waste
Due to the weight and quantities involved, construction and other building waste has always been difficult to dispose of as this waste is often extremely heavy and difficult to transport. This means that the costs involved in CD&E waste disposal can be quite high. Unfortunately, this can lead to the disposal of CD&E waste illegally by the unprincipled.
According to a report from Defra, there were 56,000 reports of fly-tipping incidents involving CD&E waste in the year 2018/2019. Additionally, there are strict restrictions and charges on the amount of building and DIY waste that can be disposed of at local household waste recycling centres. So what are the legitimate waste solutions for CD&E waste that cannot be reused or recycled on site?
Complex legislation coupled with environmental and economic considerations, directly impact how businesses remove and dispose of waste. The most effective way of disposing of CD&E waste is by using a specialist waste disposal company who is licensed with a Certificate of Registration under the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations (2011) by the Environment Agency. Most will ensure that, where possible, non-hazardous materials are recycled thereby avoiding landfill.
When using a specialist waste disposal company, it is a legal requirement that for each load waste moved off premises, a waste transfer note (WTN) must be provided.
A WTN is a document used to record a transfer of waste from one party to another and contains the following information:
- A description of the waste, its quantity and/or weight, and how it is contained or whether it is loose.
- Confirmation that the transferor has fulfilled their duty to apply the waste hierarchy outlined in regulation 12 of the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011. This duty is essentially the need to try to reduce the amount of materials that end up being sent to landfill and waste to energy by first considering prevention, preparation for reuse, recycling and other recovery.
- The date, time and address of the transfer.
- The name, address and signature of the transferor (person or organisation getting rid of the waste) and the SIC code of their business.
- The name, address and signature of the transferee (person or organisation taking the waste), their role (e.g. waste carrier, broker, processor) and their licence number authorising them to do so.
Waste transfer notes need to be kept for a minimum of 2 years and may be requested by Environment Agency or Local Authority environmental inspectors.
It is also a legal requirement that any waste produced by a business that is sent for recycling or disposal must be classified using an EWC code and that this code is included on the WTN. An EWC code is the code used to identify waste as listed in the European Waste Catalogue. The European Waste Catalogue is made up of roughly 650 codes divided across 20 chapters.
Each chapter of the catalogue is subdivided into categories. The EWC code itself consists of six digits. An asterisk next to the code denotes that the waste is considered as hazardous, for example, insulation containing asbestos is hazardous and the EWC code is 17-06-01*.
Hazardous waste items such as asbestos fall under the Control of Asbestos Regulations (2012), the COSHH Regulations, and the Control of Lead at Work Regulations (2002) and require specialised handling.
Other EWC codes for construction and demolition waste include:
- Paints and varnishes – 08-01-11 to 08-01-11
- Adhesives and sealants – 08-04-09 to 08-04-10
- Packaging waste – 15-01-02 to 15-01-10
- Concrete, bricks, tiles and ceramics – 17-01-01 to 17-10-03
- Wood, glass and plastic – 17-02-01 to 17-02-04
- Bituminous mixtures, coal and tar – 17-03-01 to 17-03-03
- Metallic waste, including cable – 17-04-01 to 17-04-11
- Soil, contaminated soil, stones and dredging soil – 17-05-03 to 17-05-06
- Insulation and asbestos materials – 17-06-01 to 17-06-13
- Gypsum – 17-08-01 to 17-08-02
- Cement (wet) – 17-09-03
The EWC code provides a standardised description of different wastes which enables waste to be recorded and monitored effectively. Classifying the waste will help to decide on the most appropriate treatment process. The primary purpose of identifying and following the prescribed movement and waste management options is to prevent harm to people and the environment.
All reputable waste management companies will require the inclusion of the relevant EWC code on the WTN paperwork when arranging for the disposal of waste materials.
For smaller amounts of CD&E waste, builders and contractors may consider hiring a skip to dispose of waste. There are, however, a number of considerations to keep in mind when choosing this option. Firstly, there are a number of common items that cannot be disposed of in a skip.
- Electrical appliances & equipment.
- Fluorescent tubes.
- Fridges, freezers and air conditioning units.
- Gas canisters and gas bottles.
- Hazardous & toxic materials.
- Oil, petrol, diesel.
- Paint & cans of paint.
Secondly, if you put a skip on a public highway, often referred to as an on-road skip, rather than private land, you will need a skip hire permit from the local authority.
This has to be organised before the delivery of the skip and is normally organised by the skip hire company. Skip permits cost extra and take a few days to arrange. Also, if you are planning on locating a skip in a controlled parking zone (CPZ), you will need a CPZ suspension in addition to any skip permit.
There are also a few safety rules applying to skips. The rules vary depending on where you are in the UK, so it’s best to contact your local authority or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to find out details. However, the vast majority require you to have lights and a cover overnight.
Skips should also have appropriate signage so that workers know what can and cannot be disposed of in each skip. Workers should also be supplied with appropriate PPE to minimise the risks of accidents and injuries.
How to manage construction waste
Construction companies are legally required to manage their waste following the waste management hierarchy. It gives top priority to preventing waste in the first place. When waste is created, it gives priority to preparing it for re-use, then recycling, then recovery, and last of all disposal.
The hierarchy is:
- Reduce the amount of waste you create, using waste prevention measures such as using less material in design and manufacture, keeping products for longer, using less hazardous materials.
- Reuse materials to avoid waste being created by checking, cleaning, repairing or refurbishing whole items or spare parts.
- Recycle materials from site where materials cannot be reused, or turning waste into a new substance or product – this includes composting if it meets quality protocols.
- Recovery – This includes anaerobic digestion, incineration with energy recovery, gasification and pyrolysis which produce energy (fuels, heat and power) and materials from waste, some backfilling.
- Dispose – Using landfill and incineration without energy recovery, the least favoured option.
Since 2013, there is no longer a legal requirement for a Site Waste Management Plan (SWMP); however, all construction companies have a duty of care towards managing their waste under section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, so creating a SWMP is a useful means of compliance. A SWMP provides a structure for waste delivery and disposal at all stages during a construction project.
It is a plan that details the amount and type of waste that will be produced on a construction site and how it will be reused, recycled or disposed of. The plan is updated during the construction process to record how waste is being managed and to demonstrate that any materials which cannot be reused or recycled are disposed of at a legitimate site.
What are the different types of construction waste?
Construction, demolition and excavation sites create various types of waste. These are generally put into groups, such as inert waste – that is waste that will not decompose or will only decompose very slowly, which includes concrete, bricks and asphalt – so that they can be dealt with easily and recycled or disposed of in a safe way.
Common types of construction waste include:
- Adhesives, sealants paints and varnishes – These are usually substances which are left after work or wasted due to an accident. Paints cans, paint removers, varnish remover, organic solvents, adhesive containers and sealant containers are extremely hazardous waste.
- Tiles, cement and ceramics – Cement waste during construction activity also relates to excessive cement mix which is left after the work is over, sometimes rejection/demolition caused due to a change in design or even wrong workmanship. It is important to note that unused or unset cement is always hazardous in nature.
- Drywall – Plaster, gypsum and plasterboard. A construction site can contain huge amounts of masonry and drywall waste. Typically, drywall is constructed using gypsum wallboard, and excess wallboard is left over after the construction of a new building.
- Metallic waste – Such as copper, bronze, brass, aluminium, lead, iron, steel, tin and mixed metals; all of these are non-hazardous and can be easily recycled. However, metals containing hazardous substances, cables containing oil and coal tar, are highly hazardous substances and demand careful handling.
- Wood, glass and plastic – Demolition of temporary structures and buildings generates wood, glass and plastic waste. These non-inert materials can be recycled or reused and as a last resort disposed of to the landfill. Waste materials which are predominately new wood from new construction include plywood, chipboard, shavings and sawdust. In addition to this, plastic waste materials used in new construction includes PVC, PVC siding, plumbing pipe, plastic sheet and foam insulation. Glass materials include waste from glass windows or door panels, glass from sky lighting or glass shelves. Most of these materials when untreated or uncontaminated are non-hazardous but sometimes they may contain hazardous substances.
- Concrete, bricks, soil, stones, sand, slabs and dredging – Concrete and bricks form most of the construction and devolution waste that are dumped in landfills. But again, these can be recycled by crushing it into rubble. Dredging materials are those objects or materials which are excavated during the preparation phase of a construction or demolition site. Trees, tree stumps, dirt, rocks and stumps are a few examples of dredging materials.
- Insulation and asbestos materials – Materials which contain asbestos are highly hazardous and pose a health risk to humans.
How to reduce construction waste
A best practice approach for management of waste involves minimisation. The design stage of any project is an important influencing factor as to why waste is produced in construction projects. Ensuring design decisions not only prevent waste from being produced in the first place but also improve the recycled content, is crucial.
On commencement of a project the construction sector can aid in waste management before waste contractors are even involved in the process, through efficient material usage and limiting waste generated. By implementing the waste management hierarchy, reductions in construction waste can be made.
- Training – Ensure the site induction to staff and sub-contractors includes awareness of good waste management and the specific measures used at the site.
- Plan deliveries – Just-in-time delivery strategies can reduce waste created by improper storage and weather damage. Arrange deliveries of materials to align with project construction stages.
- Avoid excess – Do not order significantly more materials than can be realistically used. Reject materials which have been damaged during transit and request they be returned to the supplier. This will prevent damaged materials, which are not fit for purpose, needing storage and from becoming your responsibility for disposal.
- Material storage – Plan where bulk materials are stored to minimise transportation around the site. Move materials around the site as little as possible. Breakages are more likely to happen during movement, causing materials to be unusable. To avoid deterioration of materials, keep protective packaging on and ensure storage areas are secure and weatherproof. When bad weather is forecast, pay extra attention to securing and protecting materials.
- Eliminate excess packaging – Reject excessive packaging and request its return to the supplier, e.g. glazing racks, collation trays, plastic shrink wrapping, transport strapping, etc. Consider using suppliers that offer reusable packaging schemes.
- Reusing materials – Dismantling buildings rather than knocking them down increases the amount that can be salvaged undamaged. Collect off-cuts and use these first instead of new materials. Fix materials associated with temporary works (e.g. safety/security doors, timber hoarding, hand rails, etc.) so they can be dismantled and reused many times. Mix unused paints together and use as an undercoat or for site hoardings.
- Recycling – Sort different waste materials on-site and clearly label waste containers on-site to promote effective segregation. Keep hazardous wastes out of mixed waste skips. Train workers on practical ways to manage and handle materials to maximise their re-use, recycling and recovery potential. It is always preferable to segregate at source, but where this is not possible discuss options with your waste contractor. Keep materials for recycling clean, dry and separate from other materials or waste. For example, prevent plasterboard getting wet, as it becomes acidic and difficult to recycle. Crush and screen soil and stones to provide aggregate; the amount of aggregate purchased can be significantly reduced by buying a mini crusher-screener. This enables old bricks, blocks and concrete to be processed into recycled aggregate for use under new roads and paths.
Throughout the project, consider what materials and waste will be generated and ensure that waste facilities are appropriate for each phase of the development.
- Avoid the creation of waste by carrying out works in the correct order to minimise the need for remedial actions.
- Consider undertaking a full site waste audit to help understand how waste types and quantities might change.
- Monitor and review site practice, the wastage rates, and check the containers to ensure that the proper materials are going into them.
According to the environmental charity Wrap, the UK’s biggest consumer of natural resources is the construction industry. Waste from unwanted materials is an almost inevitable by-product of construction; however, the adverse environmental impacts from resource depletion and waste disposal make efficient design and waste management crucial.
Implementing a responsible construction waste and resource efficiency strategy can deliver multiple benefits for everyone including:
- Less waste going to landfill.
- Less use of natural resources.
- Lower CO2 emissions, for example from producing, transporting and using materials and recycling or disposing of the waste materials.
- Lower risk of pollution incidents.
- Cutting costs by using materials more effectively.
- Meeting construction waste legal requirements and other obligations and requirements such as Health and Safety, planning and building regulations.