Environmental consultant Martin Brown calls for a new approach to reducing waste, from a concentration on the site to a focus on management, collaboration and costs

Controlling waste makes good environmental, social, and economic sense – yet we still need regulations placed upon us to make us do it.

In April of this year, new legislation will come into place that will make Site Waste Management plans compulsory for all projects over £250,000 in value, with compulsory plans for all other projects to follow at a later date. These plans will be monitored by the Environment Agency.

The websites for NetRegs, Envirowise, and Wrap contain a lot of information on implementing site waste management plans, with details of courses and online guidance to help set up these plans available. They are a useful starting point for those new to these plans.

A problem Even so, I can’t help but feel that the regulations are looking at the issue of waste ‘from the wrong end of the telescope’, as it were. The normal approach is to Eliminate, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Dispose. Except that Eliminate sometimes gets forgotten. Wherein lies one of the problems: the plans are called SITE waste management, not PROJECT waste management.

Regulations focus on the Waste Transfer control aspect of waste – reducing waste to landfill and other good things. However, findings from DEFRA show that one-third of ‘solid’ waste delivered to a site is not used for intended purpose. This means that we need to look at the other end: design, procurement, and buying to Eliminate. A knock-on effect of this statistic is that one-third of all solid heavy construction traffic is unnecessary!

"One-third of all solid heavy construction traffic is unnecessary!"

Cement is the world’s most used material, as well as being one of the world’s highest carbon emitters in terms of its production. Indeed, if we only deploy two-thirds of cement products for their intended use, it could be seen as a crime to let such products get to the Reuse, Recycle, or Dispose stage. This is not a site management issue alone


Construction uses 420 million tonnes of materials, and ‘wastes’ 75 million. What other industry or manufacturing sector would permit such high levels to continue, from a economic, environmental, or even social perspective?

Waste is about teams

Addressing waste is about challenging the traditional and obviously failing processes and systems within the industry. Waste management is a collaborative issue - best addressed by the whole project team, utilising, for example, the Early Contractor Involvement or Collaborative Contract forms of contract. Indeed, waste management starts at initial design stages, and must be central to value management and value engineering exercises. Clients will be driven to consider SWMPs through supplementary planning requirements and to do so would need input from the supply side.

Main contractors will increasingly look at the impact of sub-contractors on the generation of site waste, and the need for their involvement and commitments, adding another dimension to supply chain procurement and relationships, and of course there is a role for waste management contractors in developing and implementing plans, and in delivering increased recycling, less waste to landfill, and reduced disposal costs for contractors.

Economic sense

– lets not focus entirely on the disposal aspect, but more on the upstream elimination. In addition to ‘helping the environment’, it also makes economic sense. The cost of materials in any skip is around £1,200, add in labour and the cost of the skip and we’re looking at around £1,500. A site visited recently was planning for 30 skips on a £5million project: that’s £45,000 lost, enough to invest in time up at the front end to eliminate and reduce waste, preventing it from getting to disposal, and increasing profits.