On Site Vs Off Site Waste Segregation - Identifying the Right Solution for Your Construction Project

15 Mar 2016 by Paul Cox

Discover the pros and cons of on-site vs off-site construction waste segregation.

The latest government statistics reveal that the construction sector is the UK’s largest producer of waste. According to the UK Green Building Council, construction and demolition combined, currently produce around 120 million tonnes of waste each year. Shockingly, Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that around 13 million tonnes of this consists of new, unused materials – a massive waste of money and resources.

The most effective way to reduce the volume of construction materials being discarded unnecessarily is to minimise their usage - for example, by effectively forecasting and only ordering the amounts needed.

Where there is surplus, or where waste is produced, it should always be reused - avoiding  the need to send it to landfill.

Effective on site segregation can facilitate re-use - minimising further the need to dispose of it via landfill.

However full segregation of waste on site can be challenging on projects where space is limited. In that case using a reliable waste contractor who will take mixed waste to a materials recovery facility (MRF) for off-site segregation is probably your best option.

Here we take a look at some of the pros and cons of each.

On-site segregation

Pros

  • Taking responsibility for ensuring your waste is properly segregated will help you recycle more and create options for reuse avoiding landfill and higher disposal costs.

  • Separating different waste streams and storing them effectively (for example compacting light mixed and packaging wastes) can help to minimise the overall volume of waste. This could in turn reduce collection costs.

  • Better for the environment.

    • Maximises the likelihood of unused and reusable materials being reclaimed and put to good use.

    • Ensures packaging, wood and gypsum are recycled rather than going to landfill, where they would decompose, producing greenhouse gases.

  • Demonstrates a clear commitment to better environmental performance.

    • Distinguishes you from your competitors.

    • Attracts new business from clients with a focus on CSR.

  • Storing waste properly minimises the risk of accidents, improving on site health and safety.

Cons

  • Hiring multiple skips may require a bigger initial outlay before cost savings can be realised.

  • Training staff in how to segregate waste will take time and requires a cultural shift in attitudes to waste.

  • Multiple skips will take up more space and can be difficult to accommodate in small and/or urban sites.

  • Staff may be resistant to change.

  • Lack of buy-in from on-site staff/sub-contractors can cause contamination of segregated waste streams, preventing materials from being reused or recycled.

  • Separating waste streams on site takes more time.

Off-site segregation

Pros

  • Fewer waste containers take up less space – a good option for small and challenging sites.

  • Disposing of materials in a single skip relieves time pressures – ideal for projects with tight timescales.

  • There’s no need to worry about separating different types of recyclable waste.

  • Avoids the need to train staff in how to segregate waste streams.

  • Keeping waste in a smaller area maximises floor space, offering practical and health and safety benefits.

Cons

  • Workers are less likely to separate out reusable materials, leading to wastage.

  • Using a single skip may mean you need more frequent collections. This may increase costs as well as the site’s carbon footprint.

  • More of your waste is likely to end up in landfill (some MRFs are more efficient than others). This will lead to higher landfill tax expenditure.

  • Lack of training means there’s a higher risk of staff putting hazardous waste in the skip, along with everything else.

  • You may need to pay to have contaminated waste treated, or risk a fine for incorrect disposal of hazardous waste.

  • You may find it more challenging to meet recycling targets.

Although no longer compulsory for projects of any value, going through the process of preparing a site waste management plan (SWMP) will encourage a more strategic and effective approach to waste management. This is a positive step towards stamping out improper waste segregation and minimising the reusable and unused materials that go to waste.

In a WRAP survey, 83% of respondents said having an SWMP had encouraged them to segregate waste on-site. However only 63% of the companies that planned to implement full on-site waste segregation actually did so. This reflects the fact that it is a major commitment, and not always easy to fulfil. It’s probably no coincidence that 52% of the sites covered by the survey were in urban areas where space is more likely to be an issue.

It’s now compulsory to store hazardous waste separately on site, including paint and varnish tins, mastic and sealant tubes and aerosols, so all construction sites need to do some on-site waste segregation. However, if you have the time and space to do it, more comprehensive segregation of waste on site could help your company reduce costs, improve its reputation and attract new business.

Takeaways:

  • While on-site waste segregation offers many advantages, on sites where space is limited it may be difficult to achieve and it does require training and commitment.
  • Off-site segregation can save time, effort and space, however it may work out to be more expensive and more of your waste may end up in landfill.
  • Whichever option you go for, make sure to use a reputable, certified, waste management provider.  

Whether or not you decide to segregate all your waste streams on-site, it’s important to choose a reputable company to handle your construction waste. Read our handy guide to assessing the effectiveness of a waste management supplier.

Assessing the Effectiveness of a Waste Management Supplier