The dirty side of construction

Construction sites can be dirty places, producing building waste and sometimes pollution, which will affect the environment and may leave a business open to fines. Martin Ledson looks at the laws surrounding waste management on construction sites, how to meet these laws and the benefits of good practice

By law, you must deal responsibly with any waste your business produces, a particular issue on construction sites where rubble, dust and sometimes hazardous materials, such as asbestos, are the norm. Your duty of care begins when you produce the waste and ends once passed over to a licensed waste disposal business. You are also responsible for checking how any waste management provider you use deals with that waste. They must be fully licensed to handle it, in accordance with the Hazardous Waste Regulations.

Hierarchy of handling
1. Reuse
2. Recycle
3. Recover
4. Dispose – to landfill, the final and least preferred option

Waste ‘disposal’ must be your last course of action. Good practice waste management should start with prevention, using fewer and less hazardous materials where possible, or looking for alternative ways to complete essential business tasks.

‘Prevention’ will improve your environmental credentials and could also save your business money, by reducing waste disposal costs, the price of the material in the first place and encouraging better, more costeffective processes. When you consider that around ten per cent* of any construction budget could be waste, there is potentially a lot of money to be saved.

The first step to good waste management practices is planning, before a job even begins. This is not only the best approach, it also a legal requirement.

Site Waste Management Plan
Construction or demolition projects worth £300,000 or more are subject to a Site Waste Management Plan (SWMP), with more detail required in projects worth over £500,000. Failure to comply could result in fines of up to £50,000, or on the spot penalties – both companies and individuals can be held responsible, something that all staff on site should be made aware of.

SWMPs apply to all aspects of construction work, including preparatory work such as demolition and excavation, and should be completed for construction, engineering, refurbishment and maintenance projects. The plan needs to cover all related services, such as electrical, gas, water, sewage and telecommunications.

There are three main aims of a SWMP:

  • Improve efficiency and profitability by promoting reuse, recycling and recovery of waste, rather than disposal
  • Reduce fly-tipping by keeping a full audit trail of waste removed from sites and complying with waste duty of care regulations
  • Increase environmental awareness of your workforce and management

A SWMP should be created before construction activity begins, including an estimate of the types of waste that will be produced by the project, and the quantity of each type of waste. Each time waste is removed from the site its type and quantity must be recorded. Reports can then be created to make sure waste is dealt with in the most effective and profitable way possible.

It’s important not to just think of waste as solid items. Liquid waste can be a particular problem on construction sites, both of the hazardous kind and also just general dust. When houses go up, for example, care must be taken to minimise silt run off, which can block adjacent rivers. It can be a difficult task before proper sewerage systems are in place, with flooding also a potential issue, so any plans must take into account this risk.

Classifying waste
Any waste produced must be classified before sending for recycling and disposal. This is important for those responsible for handling it and is part of your ‘duty of care’. Additional requirements may be required for hazardous waste, which must be labelled as follows:

  • The waste classification code, also referred to as the List of Waste (LoW) or European Waste Catalogue (EWC) code.
  • The type of premises or business where the waste was produced
  • The name of the substance
  • The process that produced the waste
  • A chemical and physical analysis
  • Any special problems, requirements or knowledge related to the waste

Hazardous products often include orange and black danger symbols or red and white hazard pictograms and are marked with an asterisks. Hazardous waste must be segregated and not mixed with non-hazardous waste or materials.

Companies that also treat and transport of dispose of waste themselves need a permit to do so. Transporting waste comes under the ADR regulations, which was recently changed in include fuel. To comply, drivers have to be specially trained, using suitable vehicles.

Environmental commitment
In our experience, the majority of UK firms are carrying out good waste management and disposal, not least because of an increased understanding of its environmental importance. At COP21 last December, International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) president, David Newman, outlined the importance waste management could play in mitigating climate change**. He stated that greater emphasis must be placed on materials, saving CO2 emissions through recycling and where this is not possible, using these materials for energy production.

According to David, a waste system that is working efficiently and at its maximum potential, can reduce up to 15-20 per cent of a country’s CO2 emissions, compared to a scene where waste is just dumped. At the moment, waste is ‘dumped’ in 70 per cent of the world.

In the short term, better waste management practices will help prevent localised pollution and ensure fines are avoided by adhering to legislation, and in the long-term, it goes some way to contributing to the world’s carbon reduction aims. Where this waste is unavoidable, understanding its classification and the appropriate steps for dealing with it is essential.

Martin Ledson is Northern Business Development Manager for Adler & Allan. Adler & Allan supplies a range of waste management services for construction sites, including assisting with SWMPs, disposal, waste transportation, demolition and site decontamination.