Reducing Waste - Waste Management

The construction industry produces around 120 million tonnes of construction, demolition and excavation waste per year with only half of this currently being recycled or reclaimed.  Waste management involves taking action to reduce the volume of construction waste being sent to landfill. Through the identification of potential waste streams, setting targets for the recovery of materials and the process to ensure that these targets are met a range of benefits can be achieved.

Construction clients and developers are increasingly looking to set targets and requirements for waste management and to move the industry from standard through to good and best practice in waste management.  There are a range of tools and guidance available to help the industry meet changing policy and requirements, including the following:

·         Achieving good practice Waste Minimisation and Management

·         Site Waste Management Plans (SWMPs)

·         The Code for Sustainable Homes 


Recycled Materials

Materials used in construction frequently cause some environmental pollution during their production. Quarries can damage landscapes, wood can come from unsustainable sources, metals use a lot of energy in production, PVC production produces atmospheric pollution, etc. Reclaimed materials and products made from recycled materials are likely to cause less environmental damage than new products and can also reduce refuse and land fill. 

On-Site and Off-Site Recycling

The segregation of waste, on-site and off-site, can save waste going to landfill and enable companies to reuse and recycle more materials. Waste contractors can supply different skips which are colour-coded for specific types of waste (using the National Colour Coding scheme) or, alternatively, some offer a service of removing waste from site and then segregating it off-site at dedicated plants. There are also companies that provide ‘grinder’ or ‘mulching’ services to construction sites – they use machines that grind a variety of materials such as block, brick, gypsum, wood, trees, etc. The resultant ‘grinded’ materials can then be reused on site for a wide range of uses – and ‘bailing’ services which compress and bind plastics, corrugated card and paper materials.

Because there are more and more materials with recycled content coming on to the market it is possible to select recycled options for a very high proportion, or even for all of the materials required for new developments.

Some of the more common recycled materials and materials with a recycled content include the following:


Recycled and Secondary Aggreagtes (RSA) can be used in a range of construction materials. The opportunities for their use include the following: 

Concrete – a common construction material consisting of coarse and fine aggregates mixed with cement and water. There are many different types, classes, specifications and uses for concrete.

Bituminous material is principally composed of coarse aggregate and fine aggregate filler; aggregates typically contribute 90-95% of the mass of bituminous material.

Hydraulically Bound materials (HBM) are simply materials which set and harden with the addition a binder material and water. HBM have potential to be used in a range of paving and non-paving applications.

Unbound materials collectively comprise a vast array of different materials, which may range in size from fine grains less than a millimetre in diameter up to stony material several centimetres in diameter.

Other materials that can be recycled included: 


Recycling Plasterboard

Approximately 3 million tonnes of plasterboard are used in construction in the UK each year. Detailed statistics on waste plasterboard arisings are currently scarce, but it is estimated that some 300,000 tonnes of waste plasterboard are generated each year from new construction activity (largely as offcuts). The amount of plasterboard waste arising from demolition and refurbishment projects is more difficult to quantify, but maybe in the range 500,000 tonnes to more than 1 million tones per year.


Recycling Wood

Recycled wood products are made from post-consumer and post-industrial sources. Wood waste is cleaned and processed to remove any contaminants and to reduce particle size. This material is then used to manufacture a range of quality products for different markets. Some products may be made entirely from waste wood or they may contain a proportion of virgin material.


Recycling Glass

Recycled glass is a hard, inert material which can be used in many different ways. The most popular and environmentally favourable approach is to remelt it to produce more glass, a process which can be repeated over and over again. This not only saves valuable natural resources but also saves energy and reduces emissions of carbon dioxide.


Recycling Plastics

Recycling plastic into end applications that displace virgin plastics can save on average two tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of plastic recycled. There is a wide range of markets for them and increasingly these include full closed loop recycling back into packaging.