Is the future green for the construction industry?
The construction industry is known for its considerable use of natural resources, which is often unavoidable, but it is also a major emitter and energy user.
Governments around the world are becoming more conscious of climate change and its impact on the world, there is now an increasing drive to rethink the way we build and redesign the built environment.
In the UK, the budget announcement on 3 March showed the government’s commitment to climate change with the first-ever infrastructure bank being set up to finance public and private sector green industrial revolution projects and consumers are being offered the chance to put their savings towards supporting green projects.
How can the construction industry become greener?
Choosing greener materials will ultimately improve the sector, according to McKinsey, the cement industry alone is responsible for about a quarter of all industry CO2 emissions. Finding replacements for high-carbon materials is a top priority for the sector. It is also a critical element of the UK reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, according to a report by the research consortium UK Fires.
Alternatives to traditional cement and concrete, including blended cements and concretes, concrete that stores CO2 and cements made from alternative materials, are becoming more widely available and affordable.
Repairing over rebuilding
One way to reduce the impact of construction projects is to focus on repairing and remediating rather than rebuilding. Remediation to existing structures is often seen as a labour-intensive task and traditional methods such as demolition and rebuilding are preferred.
Becoming more sustainable requires a change in mindset, thinking about the kind of innovation and technologies available, to operate more efficiently with less negative environmental impact and with an aim to restore, not rebuild, where possible.
New ways of working
More advanced construction techniques are reducing waste and energy use, plus tackling other inefficiencies on building sites. As buildings become greener, so do construction sites with progress in the off-site fabrication of materials, improved on-site maintenance, lean practices, waste reduction and landfill avoidance, all fundamentally transforming the way buildings are constructed.
The construction industry produces huge amounts of waste every year. One way to be more sustainable would be, if you have excess materials at the end of your project, co-ordinating with other organisations to see if they can use your left-over materials. Having facilities on-site so workers can sort different waste materials into different skips or bins, enabling you to recycle materials where possible would also help reduce waste.
Seek sustainable suppliers
Having various suppliers involved in a project can be even more complex when trying to keep site emissions to a minimum. However, by seeking suppliers that also prioritise sustainable practices, you can ensure that everyone on your site is working in an eco-friendly way.
Environment Agency clamps down on plastic films and wraps
Businesses in the waste and construction industries must ensure they deal with waste plastic properly to stop illegal exports, the Environment Agency (EA) has warned.
The warning comes as the Agency is increasingly aware of plastic film and wrap from the construction and demolition sector being illegally exported.
Exports are frequently being classified as ‘green list’ waste of low risk to the environment, but are often contaminated with materials such as mud, sand, bricks and wood, posing a risk to the environment and human health overseas, and undermining legitimate businesses in the UK seeking to recover such waste properly.
During the last year, the EA has intercepted shipments to prevent the illegal export of this material on numerous occasions. The Agency inspected 1,889 containers at English ports and stopped 463 being illegally exported. This, combined with regulatory intervention upstream at sites, prevented the illegal export of nearly 23,000 tonnes of waste.
Those convicted of illegally exporting waste face an unlimited fine and a two-year jail sentence. But construction firms could also face enforcement action if contaminated construction and demolition waste plastic is illegally exported.
Malcolm Lythgo, Head of Waste Regulation at the Environment Agency, said it is seeing a marked increase in the number of highly contaminated plastic film and wrap shipments from the construction and demolition industry being stopped by officers.
“I would strongly urge businesses to observe their legal responsibility to ensure waste is processed appropriately, so we can protect human health and the environment now and for future generations. It’s not enough just to give your waste to someone else - even a registered carrier. You need to know where your waste will ultimately end up to know it’s been handled properly. We want to work constructively with those in the construction and waste sectors so they can operate compliantly, but we will not hesitate to clamp down on those who show disregard for the environment and the law.”
There are a number of simple, practical steps that businesses can take to ensure that C&D site waste is handled legally.
Construction businesses should check what’s in their waste
- Different waste types need different treatments and so must be correctly categorised to ensure it goes to a site that is authorised to handle it safely. Businesses can also check if their waste is hazardous as different rules might apply.
- If you are removing the waste yourself, you must be a registered waste carrier- registration can be carried out here. When a waste collector is transporting your site waste, you must check they have a waste carrier’s licence from the EA.
- You must also check that the end destination site any waste is taken to is permitted to accept it and has the right authorisations in place. Keep a record of any waste that leaves your site by completing a waste transfer note or a consignment note for hazardous waste which record what and how much waste you have handed over and where it is going.
Waste management industry must adhere to export controls
- Contaminated C&D waste plastic - including low-density polyethylene (LDPE) wrap and film - must be exported with prior consent from the EA as well as competent authorities in transit and destination countries.
- Those involved in the export of such waste must ensure that it meets the requirements set under the relevant export controls, such as being almost free-from contamination; the destination sites are appropriately licensed to receive and treat the waste; and waste is correctly managed once received.
The EA will continue to actively target those who export contaminated C&D plastic waste illegally, including any accredited packaging exporters who issue Packaging Waste Export Recovery Notes (PERNs) against such material in breach of their Conditions of Accreditation.
Businesses involved in the shipment of waste are required to take all necessary steps to ensure the waste they ship is managed in an environmentally sound manner throughout its shipment and during its recycling.
Anyone with information regarding the illegal export of waste including C&D waste plastics can contact the EA’s Illegal Waste Exports team at: [email protected] or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or via their website