Last edited 16 Mar 2023

Construction waste

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Construction activities can generate large amounts of waste materials that then need to be disposed of. In addition, at the end of a building's life, it may be deconstructed or demolished, generating significant amounts of waste. Construction waste includes waste that is generated during construction activities (such as packaging, or the products of demolition) and materials that are surplus to requirements (as a result of over-ordering or inaccurate estimating).

Typical construction waste products can include:

Increasingly, there are options available in terms of reusing and recycling materials, and reducing the amount of waste produced in the first place, but despite this, a large amount of construction waste is still disposed of in landfill. 32% of landfill waste comes from the construction and demolition of buildings and 13% of products delivered to construction sites are sent directly to landfill without having being used (ref. Technology Strategy Board)

This can be an expensive process, as the 1996 Finance Act introduced a tax on waste disposal on all landfill sites registered in the UK. For more information see: Landfill tax.

To help tackle this, a site waste management plan (SWMP) can be prepared before construction begins, describing how materials will be managed efficiently and disposed of legally during the construction of the works, and explaining how the re-use and recycling of materials will be maximised. For more information, see Site waste management plan.

It may be possible to eliminate a certain amount of construction waste through careful planning. For example, steel formwork systems might be capable of being used for concrete works which can then be reused elsewhere on the project/s in place of timber formwork which is classed as waste once it has been used.

Other types of construction waste may be capable of being minimised; for example, products which are provided with reduced packaging or those which are composed of recycled materials. There can also be opportunities to re-use materials and products which are in a suitable condition (e.g. doors, windows, roof tiles and so on), or exchange them for other materials with a different construction site.

Materials and products which cannot be eliminated, minimised or reused may have to be disposed of as waste. Before sending waste for disposal, it should be sorted and classified to allow waste contractors to manage it effectively and ensure that hazardous waste is properly handled.

For more information, see Construction waste disposal.

NB Inert waste is defined in Article 2(e) of the EU Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC) as waste that does not undergo significant physical, chemical or biological transformations.

Diverted waste is: 'All items removed from the project that are then recycled, reused, salvaged, composted, or otherwise diverted from landfills or incineration.' Ref The Living Building Challenge 4.0, A Visionary Path to a Regenerative Future, published by the International Living Future Institute in June 2019.

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Construction waste refers to the materials and debris generated during the construction, renovation, demolition, or excavation of buildings, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects. Construction waste can include a wide range of materials, such as:

1. Demolition Debris: Concrete, bricks, masonry, asphalt, wood, drywall, metal, glass, and other materials resulting from the demolition of existing structures.

2. Excavated Materials: Soil, rocks, gravel, and other materials excavated during site preparation and foundation work.

3. Packaging and Packaging Materials: Cardboard boxes, plastic wrapping, pallets, and other packaging materials used for transporting construction materials.

4. Unused or Surplus Materials: Leftover construction materials, such as lumber, pipes, tiles, paint, electrical wiring, plumbing fixtures, or any other materials that were not used in the project.

5. Hazardous Waste: Construction-related hazardous materials, including asbestos, lead-based paint, solvents, adhesives, oils, batteries, and other potentially harmful substances.

6. Miscellaneous Waste: Miscellaneous items generated during construction, including plastic waste, metal scraps, insulation materials, carpeting, furniture, and other non-recyclable or non-reusable items.

Effective management and disposal of construction waste are essential for environmental sustainability and resource conservation. Here are some common approaches to handling construction waste:

1. Waste Reduction and Recycling: Implementing waste reduction strategies, such as optimizing material usage, reusing materials, and promoting recycling of construction waste materials like concrete, metal, wood, and asphalt.

2. Segregation and Sorting: On-site sorting and segregation of different types of waste to facilitate recycling and proper disposal.

3. Responsible Disposal: Ensuring that non-recyclable waste is disposed of properly, adhering to local regulations and guidelines. This may involve using licensed waste management companies, landfill facilities, or waste-to-energy plants.

4. Donations or Resale: Identifying opportunities to donate or sell unused or surplus materials to salvage or reuse organizations, reducing waste and benefiting the community.

5. Hazardous Waste Management: Following specific protocols for the safe handling, containment, and disposal of hazardous materials to protect the environment and human health.

6. Construction Waste Management Plan: Developing a waste management plan at the beginning of a project to outline waste reduction strategies, recycling targets, responsible disposal practices, and assigning responsibilities to project stakeholders.

By implementing effective construction waste management practices, construction projects can minimize environmental impact, conserve resources, and contribute to a more sustainable and circular economy. Local regulations and guidelines should always be consulted to ensure compliance with waste management requirements in a specific region.

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