The construction industry is one of the largest consumers of natural resources, with a third of all building and demolition waste going to landfill. The preservation of our environment is a responsibility many industries are taking on board, but individually we can also play a part in reducing our footprint.
I’ve been involved in the building industry for many years and I’ve seen a lot of waste from old buildings being demolished and poor disposal of building materials. To address this serious environmental issue, it is critical to reduce waste on building sites. In addition to minimising landfill and reducing air and water pollution, the result is a more sustainable, efficient and safer building process.
It may sound like an idealistic concept, but it’s much easier to reduce building site waste and implement a sustainable construction process than many people realise.
My advice? Ask your builder to make sustainable construction part of the tender requirements and get your design team, builder and relevant contractors together to collectively develop a waste management plan.
For an effective waste management plan, the following measures should be addressed:
Take the time to map out the building site. Consider how site disturbance can be minimised, how erosion can be reduced and how site sediments can be secured.
If the site isn’t pre-planned and storm-water isn’t diverted away from the work area, run off from the building site can spread to adjacent properties and across the street, potentially contaminating waterways, silting up streams and blocking storm-water systems.
A well-planned building site will include barriers to trap coarse sediment at all points where storm water leaves the site, as well as diversion channels and waterproof coverings to protect materials that may erode.
It is important to review orders and measurements with a critical eye to reduce excess quantities of materials on site. Improving the accuracy of your orders reduces wasted natural resources and ensures a cheaper, more efficient build.
You can also reduce unnecessary waste by ensuring building materials are stored in a secure location with minimal exposure to weather conditions and construction activity. This is best achieved by identifying specific locations on the building site where vulnerable materials, such as sand and soil, can be protected and where hazardous items, such as paint chemicals, can be contained.
Determine if a home needs to be completely demolished and rebuilt or if the existing property can be renovated. Renovating is the more sustainable option, as more materials can be re-used and it creates less energy emissions than building a house from scratch.
Before purchasing new materials for a project, attempt to co-ordinate concurrent projects so that left over materials from one building site can be re-used on another. By keeping temporary materials in good condition, such as timber hoarding, barriers and rails, they can be dismantled and re-used on many projects.
If you have salvaged items from your project that are still fit for purpose, you could return them to suppliers, or sell or donate them to industry contacts or community organisations who can put them to good use.
From bricks and tiles to steel and glass, there are many building materials that can be recycled. It is important that architects and building designers guide material selection for the project, noting which materials can be recycled, determining how much waste certain materials are likely to produce and how this can be handled.
Keep materials for recycling clean and dry and ensure each item is disposed of in separate waste bins with appropriate signage. All builders have a duty of care to ensure all waste produced on site is handled legally and safely. Local councils, regional waste authorities and waste recycling contractors can help determine how each waste bin can be recycled.
While an efficient waste management plan takes time, preparation and commitment from everyone involved, the efforts and costs involved are recouped through reduced waste disposal costs, a more efficient construction process and the positive outcome of a safe, sustainable and efficient home.
Lindsay Douglas was BDAV President from October 2016 to October 2018. He runs Dig Design, an award-winning architecture and interior design firm.