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Building a better future for C&D waste

Our industry welcomes any research that can help us to improve our sustainability credentials.

Much has been done within the construction industry during the past few years to vastly improve recycling rates, and the recent news in MRW regarding the University of the West of England (UWE’s) £800,000 grant for construction waste research that could change the construction waste industry will surely help progress even further.

Developing a computer program to forecast which materials can be reused or recycled once a building is ready to be pulled down is a fantastic idea and something we wholeheartedly back.

With this project being hugely beneficial to O’Donovan, I think it needs to be complemented by other more imminent actions to ensure that the optimal recycling rates are reached. In the UK we already recycle a relatively high proportion of construction and demolition (C&D) waste compared with other EU member states. The UK average is predicted to increase from 66.4% in 2012 to 75.5% by 2020.

But, by the same token, it has also been forecast that the amount of C&D waste in the UK will rise by an average of 3% a year to just less than 133 million tonnes in 2020. Couple this with the shrinking capacity of existing landfill sites, and it becomes clear that the UK C&D industry must do more to recycle the maximum amount of the waste it produces through improved design and procurement decisions, while also thinking of the impact of future refit or demolition activities.

Designing for deconstruction is a growing school of thought, and it enables buildings to be more efficiently dismantled at end-of-life. Architects and specifiers are asking more of the products they plan to use, including knowing their origins, recycled content and recyclability. By doing this, products and techniques that make it difficult to process or recycle are designed-out, helping to save energy and resources and diverting waste from landfill while improving recycling figures.

While the tool proposed by UWE will, hopefully, help to enforce such behaviour in the future, companies can already be acting now to consider products used in building projects.

While zero construction waste to landfill might not be entirely possible, we can get extremely close through a combination of maximising the proportion of recycled material used and designing for deconstruction. Not only will this take the industry one step closer to zero waste, but it can also save time and money.

It is possible to achieve significant environmental benefits in all forms of demolition, construction and refurbishment by maximising the proportion of recycled material being used, without impacting adversely on costs or quality.

The use of recycled and secondary materials, such as aggregates, in construction is increasing, with current estimates indicating that up to 25% of aggregates come from recycled and secondary sources. This is due, in part, to the Government encouraging the use of recycled materials in construction work, as well as the increasing numbers of building projects upping their specs.

In some cases, planning permission is granted only if a certain percentage of recycled aggregates is going to be used. But there is still a long way to go.

What is clear is that, to maximise the amount of C&D waste being recycled, there needs to be more joined-up thinking by all parties involved in delivering a project.

Waste should be thought of at the outset, with appropriate planning to ensure its value is maximised as a recoverable, reusable or recyclable commodity. Expert partners should be utilised to ensure that the highest possible recycling rates are achieved.

The combination of design, procurement, construction technique, recovery process and, of course, the help of an automated system such as that proposed by UWE can deliver the final, difficult percentages on the journey towards a true circular economy.   

Jacqueline O’Donovan

Jacqueline O’Donovan

Jacqueline O’Donovan is managing director of O’Donovan Waste Disposal

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