The construction sector is the UK’s largest producer of waste, generating around 120 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste each year.
Wherever waste generation is unavoidable, companies should always seek to reuse or recycle it in order to divert it away from landfill. Effective segregation can help to facilitate this process, but how to best go about this is not always clear.
Taking on-site responsibility for waste allows a business to stay in control of every part of the segregation process, maximising opportunities for reuse and recycling. If space allows, separating as many waste streams as possible can drastically reduce overall waste costs through cheaper disposal of key waste streams.
A properly maintained, wellrun waste segregation area can reduce collection costs by achieving better utilisation of skips, resulting in less frequent collections during the project lifetime. It can also demonstrate a clear environmental agenda, helping to attract new business by distinguishing a contractor from its competitors.
So far, so positive. But establishing an efficient on-site segregation area can take forward planning, effort and training to manage, particularly if employees and contractors are reluctant to change their attitudes or working practices. If not well maintained, waste streams can quickly become cross-contaminated, preventing materials from being reused or recycled and pushing up overall waste costs through incorrect material charges.
While on-site segregation may require a bigger initial outlay to hire the necessary skips, it must be remembered that the individual unit cost of a skip should not be prioritised over the potential for long-term cost savings.
The most obvious benefits of segregating waste off-site are that it can potentially save time and space. Fewer waste containers will require less physical space, making it a good option for small or challenging sites, with wait-andload options now frequently used at the most problematic sites.
Though there are many positives to on-site waste segregation, doing it well requires cultural change and ‘buy-in’ from all parties to deliver savings. Handling the process off-site not only removes this burden it also avoids the need to educate staff on how to segregate waste properly.
That said, any potential time and hassle saved is often countered by the inevitable increases in waste costs from off-site segregation. Consequently, a company may find it difficult to hit recycling targets because more of its waste is likely to end up at landfill.
A lack of segregation training can also mean that workers are less likely to reuse materials on-site, pushing up wastage and increasing both the frequency of collections and, in some instances, materials outlay. It may also encourage staff to put hazardous wastes in the same skip as the general waste.
This ‘one-skip mentality’ can result in having to pay fees or fines for the incorrect disposal of hazardous material.
Segregating hazardous waste on-site is a legal requirement so training for this is always strongly recommended. But if a company is going down this route, it must ask why it does not train employees and contractors to segregate all waste streams onsite at the same time.
In a WRAP survey, 83% of respondents said having a site waste management plan encouraged them to segregate waste on-site, but only 63% of those that had planned to implement full on-site waste segregation actually did so.
This reflects the fact that it requires dedication and is not always easy to fulfil, given other daily pressures during site activity.
Choosing whether to segregate waste on or off-site is clearly dependent on many factors – cost, time, space, key performance indicators, reputation and culture.
Whatever is decided, it goes without saying that you should always use a reputable, certified waste management provider. But perhaps of most importance is that, once a decision is made, it is imperative that a business fully commits to it.
Paul Cox is managing director of Reconomy.