Candidates must demonstrate a clear conceptual framework for assessing projects and construction decisions in terms of sustainability, from the viewpoint of waste management, with knowledge of relevant regulations and policy

This week’s question focuses on one particular aspect of sustainability - how to minimise and manage waste from construction activities (M009 Sustainability). The competency definition is reasonably broad and follows the normal competency levels from awareness through to evidencing the ability to provide reasoned advice to clients.

Level 1

Question Please talk me through an overview of the key elements of sustainability in construction and how waste management fits into this framework.

Answer In the first part of this response the assessor is looking for the candidate to demonstrate a clear conceptual framework within which to assess the sustainable merits of projects and construction-related decisions.

The candidate might first explain that the approach to sustainability in construction in the UK is primarily influenced by a number of key regulations and policy documents. These include planning policy, Building Regulations and the Sustainable Construction Strategy.

The environmental aspects of sustainability can be broken down into seven key areas that should be considered on any property related project. These are:

  • Energy use
  • Land use
  • Biodiversity
  • Water
  • Materials
  • Pollution
  • Waste minimisation and management.

Although inter-related, the approach to each of these areas differs. For example, energy use is influenced by planning requirements for certain percentages of renewable energy, there is a commercial business case to consider in terms of energy provision and reduction of demand, and there are also energy performance certificates required for all major buildings in use. Waste management is one of these seven key areas and has been the subject of significant government focus over recent years.

Level 2

Question Focusing now on waste management, please expand on the key requirements that affect clients undertaking construction activities.

Answer The key requirement on construction clients with respect to waste is the requirement to produce a site waste management plan. This requirement was brought into force by the Site Waste Management Plan Regulations 2008 and applies to all projects of over £300,000 construction value.

The site waste management plan must as a minimum identify:

  • Likely waste streams
  • Forecast quantities of waste
  • Who will remove the waste
  • Waste disposal sites to be used
  • The process for recording actual waste generation and movements.

In addition to these minimum requirements, it is best practice also to identify actions to minimise different waste streams and estimate cost savings. Research indicates that the production of robust site waste management plans can lead to reductions in overall waste of 15% and reductions in waste to landfill of over 40%.

While clients and contractors need to produce site waste management plans to remain compliant with the regulations, there is also a commercial case for the reduction of waste. Costs associated with waste include: the original purchase cost of the materials being wasted, the cost of handling the waste, and the cost of disposal, which is being driven upward by the landfill tax escalator.

Level 3

Question Please explain the regulatory requirements behind site waste management plans and what tools would be applied in the development of such a plan.

Answer The regulatory background for site waste management plans lies in European legislation, namely the EU Landfill Directive. In 2007 the Waste Strategy (England only) was published listing waste to landfill reduction targets to meet and exceed the EU Landfill Directive targets. The Site Waste Management Plan Regulations came into force on 6 April 2008 to help tackle and reduce construction site waste arisings, and in June 2008 the government published the Sustainable Construction Strategy, which included policy targets to reduce waste to landfill by 50% by 2012 and to zero by 2020.

Much of the lead work on waste reduction has been undertaken by WRAP (the Waste & Resources Action Programme), which is a government-funded body established to focus on the reduction of landfill, reduction of carbon emissions and the delivery of economic benefits through the more efficient use of resources. WRAP has funded significant research in the area of waste and provides to industry a range of tools and resources that support government policy targets.

One of the WRAP tools central to the production of site waste management plans is the Net Waste Tool. This is a free-to-use on-line software system that calculates the potential waste arising from construction projects. The tool enables the user to input the characteristics of their project and then produces the key information required for the site waste management plan, together with information on how to manage and minimise the various waste streams.

The commercial case for waste minimisation was also recently enhanced when the government abolished the landfill tax exemption scheme. This move brought to an end the ability of clients to claim an exemption from landfill tax when removing non-hazardous inert waste from sites as part of site remediation. The fact that an exemption originally brought in to encourage brownfield site development has been amended to now focus on waste minimisation is a good example of how regulation change is being used as an instrument to drive towards the latest policy targets.