Clearing the Air ‒ 3 Ways That Brexit Will Impact Your Construction Waste Operations

16 Jan 2018 by Paul Cox

How to cope with construction waste management as Brexit approaches.

With negotiators still at loggerheads over the terms of the UK’s departure from the European Union in March 2019, many industries are worried about the future. Construction is no exception: many firms’ policies and practices on construction waste management have been directly influenced by EU legislation over the past two decades, and they now need clarity on the post-Brexit landscape. According to the UK’s Chartered Institution of Wastes Management: ‘myriad questions remain’.

However, it would be a mistake to wait for answers to those questions before even beginning to address current Brexit issues. It’s important to start thinking about the potential impacts of Brexit today: scanning the horizon in this way will help you identify emerging risks so that you can begin to think about how to mitigate them. In particular, consider three issues connected to construction waste management:

1 - Compliance

Currently, some 600 EU policies and regulations affect the UK’s waste and resource management, and further legislation may be on the statute book by March 2019, as policymakers put the final touches to the EU Circular Economy package. Right now, it is not clear how much of this regulation will be replicated in UK law following Brexit or how that will be achieved. However, we do know that EU laws will continue to apply until Brexit; in addition, the Prime Minister has said the Government will legislate so that if a final deal is not in place at the moment of Brexit, EU law will become UK law during the transitional period.

For firms considering construction waste management, this has two vital implications.

First, they must be as focused as ever on ensuring their practices are compliant with all relevant legislation, which will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Second, they must keep a watchful eye on the progress of Brexit negotiations, remaining abreast of areas where they may need to reconsider their approach in the years ahead.

These are not new imperatives. Construction companies well understand the importance of compliance: in part to avoid a damaging prosecution in the event of a failure, but also because waste management best practice can deliver bottom line benefits from gains such as cost efficiencies and improved productivity.

Nevertheless, Brexit introduces an element of fluidity to the compliance process. This increases the value that construction companies will secure from working with third-party waste management providers with a laser-sharp focus on compliance – both on delivering compliant products and services, and on offering clients advice and support on compliance in these areas.

2 - Resourcing and costs

The Federation of Master Builders warned in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote that the construction sector’s costs could rise sharply if the referendum prompted a decline in the value of the pound. So it has proved: sterling has fallen by around 12 per cent against the euro since June 2016, adding significantly to the costs of sourcing construction materials from the EU. These additional costs – with materials prices rising in any case – are now threatening the sector’s ability to continue growing.

It is not only costs that are worrying many construction firms. Over 50 per cent of construction workers now fear the prospect of labour shortages and skills gaps in the years ahead. Widespread anxiety over the status of EU nationals currently working in the UK industry also continues to grow; with some 8 per cent of workers coming from other EU member states, according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

Confronting these challenges is now crucial if the industry is to protect the bottom line, and construction waste management should be a key area of focus. The Waste and Resources Action Programme suggests cost savings and other financial benefits for construction firms that focus on waste reduction, recycling and reuse can add up to more than 10 per cent of the value of the project where best practice is achieved.

Efficient and productive waste management will also free up resources so that a more limited pool of skilled workers can focus on value-enhancing tasks. Outsourcing waste management activities to a third-party, best practice provider can be an effective way to secure these benefits.

3 - Uncertainty

This is potentially the biggest worry of all for the construction sector. Individual firms are concerned about the uncertainties surrounding the detail of ongoing operations, but the wider anxiety is that the sector’s clients will delay investment as they wait to see how Brexit plays out in their own industries. Some surveys and reports suggest that construction is already experiencing a slowdown for exactly this reason.

When the outlook is uncertain in this way, it is vital that construction firms are operating as leanly and efficiently as possible. Again, waste management is an obvious area to target in order to secure such benefits: best practice here can boost the bottom line with a broad range of benefits – such as reduced resources costs, lower tax and regulatory costs, accelerated workflows and competitive differentiation. Ideas such as the circular economy, which have grown out of the broader sustainability movement, can also provide construction firms with valuable protection throughout the sector’s business cycle.

To achieve these gains, however, construction firms will need to work closely with third-party waste management providers that possess the skills and experience to maximise the benefits on offer. With so much uncertainty to cope with in their core businesses, outsourcing waste management to a trusted specialist presents an opportunity for construction firms to reduce their stress levels.

Download: How to Report on Waste Management Sustainability