Last edited 11 Apr 2022

Construction waste

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Construction activities can generate large amounts of waste materials that then need to be disposed of. In addition, at the end of a building's life, it may be deconstructed or demolished, generating significant amounts of waste. Construction waste includes waste that is generated during construction activities (such as packaging, or the products of demolition) and materials that are surplus to requirements (as a result of over-ordering or inaccurate estimating).

Typical construction waste products can include:

Increasingly, there are options available in terms of reusing and recycling materials, and reducing the amount of waste produced in the first place, but despite this, a large amount of construction waste is still disposed of in landfill. 32% of landfill waste comes from the construction and demolition of buildings and 13% of products delivered to construction sites are sent directly to landfill without having being used (ref. Technology Strategy Board)

This can be an expensive process, as the 1996 Finance Act introduced a tax on waste disposal on all landfill sites registered in the UK. For more information see: Landfill tax.

To help tackle this, a site waste management plan (SWMP) can be prepared before construction begins, describing how materials will be managed efficiently and disposed of legally during the construction of the works, and explaining how the re-use and recycling of materials will be maximised. For more information, see Site waste management plan.

It may be possible to eliminate a certain amount of construction waste through careful planning. For example, steel formwork systems might be capable of being used for concrete works which can then be reused elsewhere on the project/s in place of timber formwork which is classed as waste once it has been used.

Other types of construction waste may be capable of being minimised; for example, products which are provided with reduced packaging or those which are composed of recycled materials. There can also be opportunities to re-use materials and products which are in a suitable condition (e.g. doors, windows, roof tiles and so on), or exchange them for other materials with a different construction site.

Materials and products which cannot be eliminated, minimised or reused may have to be disposed of as waste. Before sending waste for disposal, it should be sorted and classified to allow waste contractors to manage it effectively and ensure that hazardous waste is properly handled.

For more information, see Construction waste disposal.

NB Inert waste is defined in Article 2(e) of the EU Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC) as waste that does not undergo significant physical, chemical or biological transformations.

Diverted waste is: 'All items removed from the project that are then recycled, reused, salvaged, composted, or otherwise diverted from landfills or incineration.' Ref The Living Building Challenge 4.0, A Visionary Path to a Regenerative Future, published by the International Living Future Institute in June 2019.

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