Sustainable Waste Collection and Management in the Construction Industry

Construction is booming worldwide driven by population growth, urbanization and increased need for dwellings, business sites and commercial spaces with volume output expected to grow by 85% to $15.5 trillion by 2030. Unfortunately, it also means that there is a serious challenge to implement sustainable waste management in the construction industry. It is not only the duty of waste management contractors and companies to ensure sustainable collection and management of construction wastes responsibly but also individuals who are doing their own DIY projects at home. Without a concerted effort to collect, recycle and dispose waste properly, there is real danger to the environment that will eventually spill over to people, vegetation, and wildlife.

Role of education and behavior change

On a global scale, over half of the world’s population have no access to a steady collection of trash. Illegal dumpsites hold over 40% of the world’s waste. It’s not only the lack of facilities but also inadequate information that is contributing to waste-related pollution all over the world.

Sustainable waste collection begins by educating people about reducing, reusing and recycling efforts or the 3R approach. From education and information campaigns to changes in behavior and attitudes, when people know and are aware of the benefits of reducing, segregating, collection, reusing and recycling, they become a collective and conscious effort.

Right materials and equipment

The availability of bins, collection containers, and recycling centers also has a great influence on how much a person and their communities recycle and reuse or dispose of construction waste properly. For people who are able to hire a 20 yard dumpster in West Chester, Lancaster, Norrington, Reading or any other town in the world, it is easier and convenient to remove construction and renovation waste knowing that the company will dispose of it properly by bringing it to approved landfills.

What is also important is for clients, contractors and recycling specialists to put their heads together to minimize construction waste according to Oyenuga and Bhamidimarri.

General awareness to reduce dumping is increasing as about 35% of construction and demolition waste (CDW) goes to landfills. Construction rubbish can contain lots of toxic materials such as lead, asbestos, and other dangerous substances that can find their way into the soil, groundwater, and the air that we breathe.

The construction industry has also recognized that reusing components and materials in making or erecting structures is sustainable and saves money. Most of the parts of construction consist of wood, sticks, steel, and concrete. Rubble can be compacted and reused. Demolition is carefully considered if renovation can be carried out.

The Way Forward

Waste generated from construction need not be a nuisance to the environment. With the right education to increase awareness to reduce/recycle/reuse, provision of collection and recycling points and the newer and better techniques to reuse construction materials, sustainable management of construction waste can become a reality.

Management of Construction Wastes

constuction-wastesA wide variety of wastes are generated during construction projects which may be classified into four categories – excavated wastes, demolition wastes, construction wastes and mixed wastes. Construction wastes are also known Construction and Demolition (C&D) wastes. Excavated materials is made up of soil, sand, gravel, rock, asphalt, etc. while demolition wastes is comprised by  concrete, metal, roofing sheets, asbestos, brick, briquette, stone gypsum, wood material. Waste materials generated from construction activities are concrete, dry wall, plastics, ceramics tiles, metals, paper, cardboards, plastics, glass etc. In addition, mixed wastes, such as trash and organic wastes, are also produced in construction projects.

Almost 90 percent of construction wastes are inert or non-hazardous, and can be reused, reclaimed and recycled and reused. The non-recyclable, non-hazardous and hazardous waste materials constitute the remaining 10 percent. The non-inert materials include trees, green vegetation, trash and other organic materials while and the hazardous construction waste materials include contaminated soil, left over paints, solvent, aerosol cans, asbestos, paint thinners, striping paint, contaminated empty containers.

Sustainable management of construction wastes uses number of strategies and is based on the typical waste hierarchy: Avoid/ eliminate, reduce, reuse, recycle, treat and dispose.

Avoidance / Source Reduction

Avoidance or source reduction is considered as the best strategy for waste management and is the most economic way to reduce waste and minimise the environmental impacts of construction wastes. This can be done by avoiding use of hazardous materials such as asbestos-containing materials or chromated copper arsenate treated timber or through green purchasing of materials. This includes purchasing of non-toxic materials, pre-cut timbers and ordering materials of desired dimensions.

Reuse

Although source reduction and elimination are preferred options in the waste management hierarchy, it is always not possible to do so. In this case consider reuse, donation and salvage options to companies or people who need those. Reuse option lengthens the life of a material. Reuse strategy can be used in two ways.

Building Reuse – It includes reusing materials from existing buildings and maintaining certain percentages of building structural and non-structural elements  such as interior walls, doors floor covering and ceilings.

Material Reuse – This is one of the most effective strategies for minimising environmental impacts which can be done by salvaging, refurbishing and reusing materials within the same building or in another building. Many of the exterior and interior materials can be recovered from existing buildings and reused in new ones. Such materials will include steel, walls, floor coverings, concrete, beams and posts, door frames, cabinetry and furniture, brick, and decorative items. Reuse of materials and products will help to reduce the demand for virgin materials and reduce wastes.

Recycle

There is very good potential to recycle many elements of construction waste. Recycling involves collecting, reprocessing and/ or recovering certain waste materials to make new materials or products. Often roll-off containers are used to transport the waste. Rubble can be crushed and reused in construction projects. Waste wood can also be recovered and recycled. Many construction waste materials that are still usable can be donated to non-profit organizations. This keeps the material out of the landfill and supports a good cause.

Treat and Dispose

This option should be considered after all other options are exhausted. The disposal of construction materials should be carried out in appropriate manner through an approved contractor. For examples, certain components of construction waste such as plasterboard are hazardous once landfilled. Plasterboard is broken down in landfill conditions releasing hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas.