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Last edited 28 Apr 2016

Managing packaging waste streams

In the latest blog post by --KLH Sustainability, Ritu Rajashekar considers waste streams on site and highlights the hidden impact of packaging.


The UK construction industry uses enormous quantities of materials, but only about half of construction and demolition waste is recycled or reclaimed. Studies have revealed that about 34% of waste from construction sites is packaging waste consisting of timber, cardboard, plastic, and so on. Packaging is necessary to protect products from damage, however, intelligently designed packaging and consideration of logistic arrangements early in the construction process can significantly reduce waste.

The European Commission is currently reviewing key targets under the Waste Framework Directive, the Landfill Directive and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, with the intention of bringing targets in line with the Commission’s ambitions of promoting resource efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Although the UK Government does not yet support these revised targets, if applied, they would require businesses to roll up their sleeves and do some hard number crunching.

The UK Government fears that in the current economic climate it may not be possible to achieve existing EU targets let alone the revised ones. But many believe that having these regulations will help cut costs for the industry. Estimates suggest that fully enforcing EU legislation on waste could save 72 billion euros a year, boost the annual turnover of EU waste management and recycling firms by 42 billion euros, and create over 400,000 jobs by 2020.

Recent analysis carried out on the Media Centre project for London 2012 revealed that whilst only 469 tonnes of timber was officially delivered to site for use in the construction works, around 907 tonnes of timber was skipped. The majority of skipped timber was associated with packaging, raising an interesting question about material efficiency and the use of sustainable timber.

Waste forecasts have historically focussed on construction products used on site, and even new tools such as Building Information Modelling which can significantly reduce waste on site do not provide transparency and forecasting for packaging waste. So packaging is largely an ‘unseen’ waste stream and cost, until it turns up in the skip.

It is important to interrogate data to understand packaging waste streams in detail. Information is key to engaging sub-contractors and suppliers in challenging the extent of packaging brought to site, and where possible enabling the return of packaging on the delivery back haul or identifying alternative uses for packaging waste.

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