Recycling in Construction: Overcoming the Barriers

Recycling in Construction: Overcoming the Barriers

Reduce, reuse and recycle; no longer just buzz words but everyday steps we are all taking and not just at home when we sort out rubbish into different coloured bins!

The construction industry is embracing recycling, not only to protect the environment and conserve finite resources, but because it makes financial sense too, leading to more cost efficient project outcomes, by reducing the cost of building materials and reducing waste disposal costs. Resource Efficient Scotland estimate that total project costs can be reduced by 0.5-2% through site waste reduction.

According to the latest figures from SEPA, Scotland generates 11.631.031 tonnes of waste annually. 1,392,265 tonnes of this figure is mineral waste, from construction and demolition. 4,061,490 tonnes is from soils. So overall, just under 50% of all waste produced in Scotland is from Construction, with 75% of this being soil and stones.

Every year the Scottish construction industry uses approximately 29 million tonnes of aggregate. Right now, just 20% of current demand is met with recycled aggregate (5.8 million tonnes). This means that Scotland is using 23.2 million tonnes of new aggregate each year. While Scotland currently has an abundant supply of aggregates, that is not the case across the whole of the UK and it’s not sustainable either. This is especially true when we consider that 13% of raw materials are being discarded unused.

It’s no surprise then that there is emerging pressure to move towards more sustainable construction methods and reduced resource consumption. Reducing the amount of waste we have in the first instance, through design and waste management plans; reusing if there is waste onsite, through processing or finding a different use or recycling, by taking elsewhere for someone else to use or to process. Disposal should only ever be an option if there is no other alternative. Not only is it environmentally damaging, it can also be financially costly.

The benefits of re-use are clear. But as with so many things, the process is not always as straightforward as it could be and this is especially the case when it comes to groundworks.

Often it can be unclear at the stage of costing a project, what scope there is for recycling and how to budget accordingly. A risk may have to be taken in preparing costings based on being able to recycle materials instead of being disposed of or on managing to get a licence from SEPA to re-use aggregates on a neighbouring project. Sometimes there can be resistance from clients about the idea of what they perceive as “sub-standard” material” being used on the project and an expectation that any resultant savings should be passed on. Planning consent can be difficult too, with unexpected hurdles to be overcome along the way with related extra costs, for example a road being upgraded being reclassified as a new road and therefore requiring planning approval before a project involved recycled material can be completed.

So what needs to change to make it better? Successful construction recycling initiatives require buy in from the full team of sub-contractors involved in a project, with recycling targets established as early as possible and delivery planned into the project. This may require different ways of working and an acceptance that more time needs to be invested to co-ordinate , manage and track the process.

But it’s also about getting back to basics. When building a road, a bridge or any other project, at the time when the land to be used it selected, more needs to be done to design out removal of any material. If material has to go off site, this should be carried out by the chosen contractor with the assistance of SEPA or relevant environmental bodies. Where that isn’t possible, more time must be available for civils companies to be able to get the relevant information to enable better informed decisions on where and what can happen to the soil, tar, concrete etc. There should be more sites available across the country to either recycle or if necessary take inert or non-hazardous material.

It must become much easier for the construction sector to reuse and recycle – right now, it can seem to complex, especially for smaller companies. A big issue for many contractors is the lack of any clear guidance and advice; there are too many grey areas – consistent advice would make a huge difference and make recycling and reuse more attractive and feasible.

Something like the NISP (National Industrial Symbiosis Programme) should be re-introduced, allowing likeminded companies to get together and share resources and material. SEPA should develop a question and click web page, where they ask a question, give you a range of answers and depending on what you click, provide you with the best solution for your material – based in the first instance on recycling, with disposal always being the last resort. An App with interactive links to all sites and what material they can take would be of real assistance. SEPA should also provide a list of inert sites on its website, in addition to the list of Landfill sites it already produces.

As stocks of aggregate get smaller and smaller, the cost will simply rise and rise, impacting on the financial feasibility of entire projects. All companies in the construction sector need to act and re-think how work is carried out now and into the future. Change can happen but our experience at Kilmac is that it won’t always be easy, change requires hard work and determination.

It’s time for the barriers to change to come down and instead for the powers that be to provide the support the construction sector needs to embrace recycling, leading to more cost efficient projects and helping play our part in ensuring a more sustainable environmental future.

Bert Hope is Group Buyer with Kilmac Construction and recently presented at a Resource Efficient Scotland/CECA Scotland Event Increasing Profits in Construction through Re-use

Free resources on maximising re-use of materials on-site are available from Resource Efficient Scotland at: