How Can Good Design Minimise Waste in the Construction Industry?

23 Aug 2016 by

Minimising waste is increasingly a client-driven imperative – so what could your business be doing to better address construction waste management?

Construction projects in the UK use approximately 400m tonnes of material a year. Urgent measures are needed to address waste management in the construction industry, as the industry still sends 25m tonnes of waste to landfill each year, according to WRAP.

The construction industry is lagging behind in the productivity stakes, while other sectors — such as manufacturing — continue to pioneer change. So what steps should we take to minimise waste in the construction industry?

Clients are increasingly calling for a reduction in waste on new projects, as the principles of the circular economy and general sustainability continue to take hold.

Start at The Beginning

Good design should go hand-in-hand with minimising waste. Too often, materials from stripping out, demolition and excavation are sent to landfill and there isn’t enough focus on the lifespan of a building.

Remember, everyone plays a part in design – from client to architect, engineer to designer, and contractor to subcontractor. Designers are key players in ensuring resources are used efficiently, but waste minimisation principles laid out at the outset need adopting by all.

Resource efficient construction employs a number of strategies to improve construction waste management processes including:

  • Responsible sourcing of materials
  • Opting for durable materials
  • Reducing energy and water use during construction
  • Prioritising energy and water efficiency in design
  • Reducing, reusing and recycling materials by setting project requirements.

WRAP recommends five key principles to designing out waste:

  • Reuse and recovery
  • Off-site construction
  • Materials optimisation
  • Waste efficient procurement
  • Deconstruction and flexibility.

What This Means in Practice

Think about the materials you order, and whether you can become more efficient and avoid waste.

Aim to use products with a high recycled content and low environmental impact, and avoid high disposal costs.

Employ off-site construction methods and design standardisation, or even duplication, where appropriate.

Seek to cut out over-ordering and return surplus material.

Actively look for suppliers who operate take-back schemes.

Consider whether materials or even whole site buildings can be dismantled and reused on the next project.

Think about flexible use and potential deconstruction of the main build in the future.

Designers can also employ the ‘design-to-value’ or DTV approach by working with consumer insights, analysing how competitors meet consumer need and incorporating supplier data on new technologies.

New technologies such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), lean methodology and off-site construction all contribute towards improved construction waste management. With BIM, all your project information is in once place. Consider a range of software solutions that allow you to factor in cost, time and resources.

Work Already underway?

Even if you are already working on a build, there are still many steps you can take to improve your waste management.

Incorporating a Site Waste Management Plan (SWMP) will put the focus on your waste processes. The government made these non-compulsory in 2013 but advises that SWMPs can still be used. In addition, there are steep targets for reducing waste to landfill.

The waste hierarchy also encourages the reuse and recycling of materials, with disposal right at the bottom of the process. Landfill should be a last resort as waste segregation can be quickly and effectively employed on site.

Minimising waste requires close working and collaboration across all stages of a project. Designers need to liaise with both client and contractors, who will then hopefully communicate with subcontractors on identifying waste streams, reusing materials and putting waste minimisation in place.

You may need specialist subcontractors to advise on designing out waste or off-site construction methods. And all parties will need to assess the impact of waste management on cost, programme and building design.

Top Waste Reduction Initiatives

As outlined in WRAP’s ‘Designing Out Waste’ guide:

Landscaping: use on-site demolition and excavated materials as a draining base or mound features

Concrete: recycle aggregates in concrete mix

Packaging: reuse or return, or break down for other purposes

Foundations, timber, bricks and tiles: reuse existing materials

Demolition: employ practices enabling reuse or donating unwanted materials

Site establishment: reuse existing buildings

Modular design: for cladding, door sets, multiple units, prefabricated units

Precast concrete: for stairs and stair wells, flooring, lift cores

Steel: for steel frame design, steel stairs

Reduce excavation: use rotary pile foundations. Question the need for basements.

Key takeaways:

  • Collaboration is key for minimising waste. Everyone needs to work together.
  • Incorporate waste minimisation from the outset.
  • Construction waste management processes can be improved after a project has started.
  • Use specialists to advise on waste minimisation and offsite construction.
  • Consider new technologies like BIM and lean methodology.

Find Out More About Construction Waste Management. Download: Producing a Circular Waste Strategy for Your Construction Supply Chain – A Checklist

Producing a Circular Waste Strategy for Your Construction Supply Chain – A Best Practice Checklist