By far the biggest source of UK waste – at more than 60% – is construction, demolition and excavation (CD&E) waste. This equates to around 135 million tonnes a year.
Defra’s latest data is from 2016, and it has to calculate UK recovery rates from non-hazardous C&D waste for reporting against the Waste Framework Directive. While Defra has said that accurately quantifying C&D waste is “challenging” because “the absolute tonnage figures are subject to a relatively high level of uncertainty”, the UK has been comfortably exceeding the target of recovering 70% of non-hazardous C&D waste by 2020.
In its UK Statistics on Waste report published in February 2019, Defra said that revisions had been made to the recovery rate from non-hazardous C&D waste following updates from the underlying Mineral Products Association data, but the recovery rate remains around 90%.
Government attention has been increasingly focused on the potential to improve resource efficiency and minimise waste in the construction sector. The resources and waste strategy said it would consider extended producer responsibility (EPR) for certain materials used in the sector. It also recognised the impact that digitalisation and innovative materials and techniques could have on resource and these are key areas of focus that were flagged up in the construction sector deal published last summer.
The challenge to transform construction
The ‘Transforming Construction’ challenge is part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (published May 2017) that is being delivered by UK Research & Innovation.
It is designed to help meet the UK’s £650bn national infrastructure programme by 2025 by enabling it to produce safe, healthy, efficient buildings using the latest digital manufacturing techniques. It should support the industry to adopt these technologies and help buildings to be constructed 50% faster, 33% cheaper and with half the lifetime carbon emissions.
The Government is looking to industry and researchers to innovate in construction, increase productivity across the UK and open up significant global markets for efficient buildings. It will invest up to £170m, matched by £250m from industry, to create new construction processes and techniques, such as the development of standardised modular components from which buildings can be manufactured.
Anna Surgenor, senior sustainability adviser and circular economy (CE) programme lead at the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), said the Government’s direction of travel in the re-sources strategy was welcome: “It is very positive to see the importance of circular principles highlighted throughout.
“The UKGBC is already working with Defra and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in this area, and we are committed to continuing engagement with them as part of our CE programme. There is evidently a huge opportunity for the sector to improve, and we support Defra’s work with the Green Construction Board to establish a definition of zero avoidable waste in the sector.”
The UKGBC’s two-year CE programme for the built environment was launched in July 2018, with support from the Crown Estate. As part of this, it has one task group looking at how organisations can specify the reuse of materials and share resources between external projects while ensuring that technical integrity, liability and legal issues are covered to reduce project risk.
Another task group is looking at what requirements clients and planners can set in their development briefs, planning requirements, procurement documents and contracts to ensure that circular principles are applied to developments. Once factors are identified, the aim is to make practical interventions on live projects and share learning to help the sector adopt circular principles at scale.
Asked what measures the construction sector was currently taking to reduce waste and improve resource efficiency, Kris Karslake, sustainability manager at BAM Construct UK, said: “The industry is eliminating waste by working more collaboratively with the value chain in order to deliver buildings that are more resource efficient from the start.
“This includes rationalisation of, as well as designing to, standard material dimensions, such as a 600x600mm grid for ceiling tiles. Or even omitting elements altogether – for example school classrooms often now have acoustic and lighting rafts with exposed concrete rather than suspended ceilings.
“More offsite construction is taking place so the building site becomes an assembly location instead, joining whole rooms together on-site or bolting on an entire plant room, such as at Neasden Primary School. BAM recently acquired an Irish modular homes specialist, for example.”
He said that while 3D printing had yet to transform the construction sector, it could be the future and BAM has opened a 3D printing facility in Eindhoven: “This is limited currently to printing building elements, but there are full-scale trials of printing entire buildings. The challenge to wide-scale adoption is probably to decide if the approach is more efficient and as long-lasting as traditional construction, then to move from single specialist examples like a cycle bridge in Holland.”
Karslake added: “EPR should make construction think twice about the waste streams that are produced, and the full lifecycle of buildings may be taken into account from the very beginning.”
BAM is involved in the European-funded Buildings as Materials Banks (BAMB) project. This aims to develop a number of solutions so that the full value of buildings are considered, such as introducing a materials passport.
He believes that Government initiatives and regulation, industry innovation and new organisations joining the sector, as well as emerging technologies and changing opinions and lifestyles, will all lead to change in the sector: “Whether significant change will happen soon enough and the change will have a significant enough impact are the real questions.”
Policy Focus 1
Our Waste, Our Resource: A Strategy For England, published by Defra, December 2018
“The construction industry is on the brink of fundamental change with developments such as digitalisation, off-site manufacturing and new construction materials and techniques offering huge potential for increasing resource efficiency.
“The Green Construction Board has already developed guidance for increasing resource efficiency and reducing waste in the sector through the adoption of circular economy principles. We will work with them to establish a definition of zero avoidable waste in the sector and develop an ambitious route map by 2020 setting out how and when this can be achieved.”
On extended producer responsibility (EPR): Five priority areas were identified to review and consult on measures, such as EPR and product standards by the end of 2025 (with two complete by end 2022). One of the five areas identified was “certain materials in the construction and demolition sector”. The strategy said the full list of products and materials in scope was “yet to be defined” and would be subject to further review and consultation.
On increasing resource efficiency: A section on ‘developing plans to increase resource efficiency and minimise waste in the construction sector’ stated that there was “considerable scope for further improvement” in reducing this waste and diverting it from landfill.
Policy Focus 2
Construction Sector Deal, published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, July 2018
Strategic areas of focus and their impact on waste: Digital techniques deployed at all phases of design will deliver better, more certain, results during the construction and operation of buildings. Clients, design teams, construction teams and the supply chain working more closely together will improve safety, quality and productivity during construction, optimise performance during the life of the building and [improve the] ability to upgrade and ultimately dismantle and recycle buildings.
Offsite manufacturing technologies will help to minimise the wastage, inefficiency and delays that affect on-site construction, and enable production to happen in parallel with site preparation.
Whole-life asset performance will shift focus from the costs of construction to the costs of a building across its life cycle, particularly its use of energy. The Government will ensure that our industrial strategy and our significant investments in housing and infrastructure support this change and innovation.
On sustainability: Using innovative and more efficient technologies in infrastructure will help deliver an objective of at least halving the energy use of new buildings by 2030. More efficient processes will also help to minimise waste.