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Managing waste on construction sites

Information on how to reduce and manage waste on construction sites

The construction industry

The UK construction industry is responsible for producing over 36 million tonnes of landfill waste every year. This equates to approximately 35% of total waste generated. So it's essential to reduce and manage waste on construction sites.

Fortunately the situation is changing in the UK. There are a growing number of sustainable waste management solutions that can be used.

Sources of waste

Waste varies according to the phase of construction, method and the type of building.

A wide range of waste materials are produced throughout the construction project.

Most waste is produced on site through:

  • over ordering
  • damage by mishandling
  • unsuitable/lack of storage
  • weather damage

But unnecessary packaging of construction materials also produces an excessive amount of waste such as plastic and cardboard. 

Secure storage of lightweight waste is essential to avoid it being blown across the site and neighbouring areas.

Minimising waste

Managing and monitoring the different types of waste on a construction site requires a detailed waste minimisation strategy. This requires careful consideration throughout the design, construction and occupancy phases.

There are three basic strategies for dealing with waste:

  • reduce
  • reuse
  • recycle

Waste prevention is the ideal. This can be addressed first by identifying possible waste streams early on in the construction process, and then designing for their minimisation.

Using standard sizes for building components (for example, windows, doors) can prevent future waste. 

Over ordering often generates waste. It's estimated that 13 million tonnes of new building materials are thrown away every year. Time spent ensuring exact calculations of materials are made can help to reduce the level of waste. Just-in-time deliveries can also help to reduce waste created by poor storage and weather damage.

Once waste has been produced, the best method of managing it is through reuse either on the existing site, or a nearby site. Consider storing reusable waste separately as some materials could be reclaimed or even sold.  

Occupancy waste

Sustainable building practice goes one step further than conventional practice. It helps reduce residential waste through designing for waste minimisation in the operation of the building. For example:

  • greywater recycling
  • composting toilets
  • on site food composting
  • off-site recycling facilities

Waste as a valuable resource

Effective waste management can:

  • reduce building and operating costs
  • enhance the reputation of the building industry
  • generate new revenue streams through developing recycling and reclaiming markets

Reducing construction waste also:

  • saves landfill space
  • conserves valuable natural resources
  • saves energy
  • creates less pollution by reducing transportation and manufacturing processes, with a mitigating effect on climate change

The UK Government has introduced a landfill tax, aggregate levy and other waste management regulations. These encourage the diversion of waste from landfill, promote reuse and recycle strategies, and emphasise environmental responsibility.

But further measures are needed if the construction industry is to realise waste minimisation as part of its core activity. And if we really want to address our waste problems, the biggest change that needs to occur is a shift in people's thinking. 

We need to see waste as not just a problem of disposal, but as a valuable resource to be treated and used with respect and care.

Disposal of business or commercial waste

Norfolk is part of the #SCRAPflytipping campaign, which aims to educate businesses regarding their responsibilities around waste disposal. Controlling waste at source and only passing it on to registered and legitimate waste disposal companies is the key to preventing illegal waste disposal.

You must:

You have extra responsibilities if you’re dealing with hazardous waste.

Further guidance

The Considerate Constructors Scheme is a not-for-profit, independent organisation founded in 1997 by the construction industry to improve its image.

Construction sites, companies and suppliers voluntarily register with the Scheme and agree to abide by the Code of Considerate Practice. It's designed to encourage best practice beyond statutory requirements. 

For more information on the Code, please visit the Code of Constructors Scheme website.

For more information on your responsibilities for storage and disposal of waste please visit GOV.UK - Managing your waste - an overview

The HSE also provides further guidance on the HSE website.