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Construction industry eyes new voluntary commitment on waste

The construction industry is reinforcing its own commitment to reduce construction and demolition (C&D) waste - and to improve resource efficiency - while ministers are reining back on policy initatives.

It follows the announcement from new resource minister Dan Rogerson of a shift from new policy work on C&D waste amongst others. A Defra official had indicated that other government departments, such as BIS, might increase activity in this area.

But a spokesperson for BIS told MRW that the department would also be “moving back from proactive policy-making on construction and demolition waste.” This was because businesses were increasingly recognising “the economic case for action”.

BIS also expected a new report on the sector to be published “shortly” to show that C&D waste sent to landfill had been falling for three consecutive years since 2008 and work would still be carried out by a waste sub-group of the government’s Green Construction Board.

A proposal included in the Government’s Construction 2025 Strategy, released in July 2013, was for businesses and WRAP to work towards a new voluntary commitment on resource efficiency by spring 2014.

A spokesperson for WRAP said: “WRAP is talking to UK governments and industry stakeholders about continuing our work to support resource efficiency as this presents a key opportunity for the construction sector and the UK economy.”

‘No need for more regulations’

The voluntary agreement would follow Halving Waste to Landfill, a commitment finalised by WRAP in 2012 and signed by more than 800 companies across the construction supply chain.

Paul Toyne, sustainability director at Balfour Beatty told MRW: “Although it is voluntary, this demonstrates how the industry doesn’t necessarily need further regulations to drive and stimulate change.”

Nigel Saga, senior sustainability manager for Skanska UK, said there was a strong business case for construction companies to reduce C&D waste, mainly as a result of the landfill tax and to improve efficiency to reduce costs.

Reuse of materials was also in focus, he said. Skanka had set up an internal ‘Swap-shop’ platform through which projects could advertise materials to be disposed of in case others wanted them.

Toyne mentioned similar examples within Balfour Beatty whereby London clay excavated from the Cross Rail project was used for coastal defence schemes in Essex. He said Balfour Beatty had observed a significant decrease in waste to landfill, from 180 tonnes per pound spent in 2010 to 41 tonnes.

Still room for improvement

Anna Surgenor, senior technical adviser at the UK Green Building Council, a charity grouping 400 members from the construction, design and planning industries, said there had been improvements but more could be done.

“What [construction companies] are not doing is looking at designing out waste, or designing for reconstruction, and more advanced techniques around waste,” she said.

Greater regulation was not the best approach: “You just need the forward thinking organisations to start working on it - and they are - and sharing best practices.”

The Chartered Institution for Wastes Management noted that a 70% target for the reuse, recycling or recovery of non-hazardous C&D waste by 2020 was included in the Waste Framework Directive and that “while the UK may be close to reaching this, it was important not to be complacent.”

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