Environmental sense

Anthony Holley looks at how construction managers can deal with the industry’s huge capacity of waste sustainably and how to tackle hazardous waste safely and cost-effectively

The construction industry in the UK is one of the largest producers of waste, responsible for over 100 million tonnes of construction, demolition & excavation (CD&E) waste every year according to environmental agency WRAP. With almost 13 million tonnes of CD&E waste each year ending up in landfill in England alone, trying to find more sustainable alternatives for disposing of waste should be a priority for any construction professional, as not only will it protect the wider environment but maintain the company’s reputation as a responsible waste producer.

The sheer volume and potentially hazardous nature of this waste means knowing how to effectively deal with it in a safe and responsible way is vitally important for anyone working on a construction site. If not properly managed, these materials could have a severe impact on not only the environment, but the health of on-site workers as well.

Knowledge is key
The first step in dealing with CD&E waste is to check exactly what is classified as hazardous waste in the government’s Hazardous Waste Regulations. With the majority of waste typically generated on construction or demolition sites, such as concrete debris or bricks, being typically non-hazardous and inert, it could be easy to overlook any small amounts of hazardous materials amongst the rubble.

However, ensuring you can identify exactly what these regulations define as ‘hazardous waste’ and putting in place a responsible disposal process for both non-hazardous and hazardous materials separately, is essential, as companies can be severely fined and potentially further prosecuted by the Environmental Agency if they fail to comply.

There have also been numerous recent changes in legislation which impact waste management within the construction industry, so staying on top of all updates is key.

Up until 1st April last year, businesses which generated or stored more than 500kg of hazardous waste on site needed to register with the Environmental Agency, but this is no longer required as part of the government’s efforts to reduce regulatory burdens on businesses.

The waste hierarchy
Good waste management comes before waste is even produced. By prioritising the best actions to take to generate the minimum waste possible, construction managers can operate sites sustainably. Produced under the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011, the waste hierarchy was introduced, assisting companies to understand what to prioritise. All businesses which produce or handle waste must apply the waste hierarchy system and try to prevent its generation however possible, with disposal being the very last resort. Simple steps such as not ordering excess materials and choosing to re-use existing materials, the hierarchy’s first stage, make prevention of waste much more achievable.

Measures to take if prevention is unavoidable
Under the Hazardous Waste Regulations, potentially hazardous items, such as asbestos, must be stored separately from all other waste products. Because of this, all construction sites should ensure they have space for multiple bins or skips for different varieties of hazardous and nonhazardous waste.

Due to construction site deadlines and pressures to complete projects swiftly and effectively, having a plan in place to ensure all unavoidable waste is segregated quickly is invaluable. Having a partner company whose expertise is waste management is the best way to guarantee this, as they can carry out a comprehensive, tailored waste audit and ensure that all C&D materials can be managed correctly.

These companies can also provide education materials and training to all staff to help them remain compliant with government waste regulations. By drawing from their experience and by taking the right steps in training all personnel regularly present on C&D sites, companies can keep their environment goals in mind.

A further step in this development can be taken by appointing a ‘waste champion’ within the company, a member of staff who is responsible for monitoring waste output and ensuring the waste hierarchy is prioritised.

Last stage – disposal
Once materials that have been reused or are no longer usable are correctly segregated, they must then be disposed of in a sustainable and safe manner. Outsourcing waste disposal to registered professional waste management companies ensures that all waste is dealt with correctly while also dealing with all legal documentation required.

By correctly segregating construction waste, it can be diverted from landfill and sent to an energy recovery facility instead. It is here that the waste can be converted into Refuge Derived Fuel (RDF), a potential source of energy which makes better environmental and economic sense compared to landfill.

Anthony Holley is Regional General Manager in Yorkshire for leading UK waste management company Biffa. Biffa is a leading integrated waste management business, handling the collection, treatment, processing and disposal of waste and recyclable materials. With an unbeatable service offering, the company boasts a critical mass of 197 operating locations, including depots, waste transfer stations, and processing and energy generation facilities.

For more information, please see www.biffa.co.uk/businesswaste/hazardous-waste/sectors/construction