New site waste management plans will help cut waste on larger sites but will do little to target the biggest wasters of them all, flytippers

For some, compulsory site waste management plans (SWMPs) are an industry panacea that will banish poor waste management and fly-tipping forever. No more asbestos-filled prefabs dumped outside school gates in the dead of night and no more used bathroom furnishings sullying the glorious British countryside. SWMPs are a magical solution - a legislative parent scrubbing hard under the construction industry's grubby fingernails.

The problem is that the vast majority of us in the construction industry have been diligently managing our project waste with SWMPs since Adam first built Eve a nice cosy semi with off-street parking.

Therefore, while compulsory SWMPs are to be applauded, a note of caution is urged, not least because it is debatable whether they will facilitate the necessary behavioural changes within the legislation's specific target issues, such as poor waste management and fly-tipping

For example, setting the £300,000 project limit must have been an unenviable task. But will this deter the militant tippers, when projects above this value are almost certainly the sole domain of sizeable companies with robust environmental track records?

Most fly-tipping is caused by those working on smaller refurbishment and construction projects, such as fitting new bathrooms and kitchens

Most fly-tipping is caused by those working on smaller refurbishment and construction projects, such as fitting new bathrooms and kitchens - not on larger programmes.

For those on bigger projects there is a greater degree of responsibility, and firms have been striving hard for some time to ensure compliance with industry standards.

Awareness of environmental issues is high, not just because of the reputation-tarnishing effects that negligent site waste disposal can have, but simply through a sense of duty.

It would be inadvisable for the industry to get carried away by seeing the new SWMP legislation as a “job done”. SWMPs are what they say they are - just plans.

SWMPs are what they say they are - just plans

They only require companies to predict, consider and monitor the various waste levels and management options, and do not necessarily compel people to become better waste managers, to reuse more materials on site or to recyle more.

What is more, in making it a statutory requirement for the principal contractor to reuse, recycle or recover as far as is “reasonably practicable”, the argument at sites across the country will be that it is not “reasonably practicable” to segregate different types of waste when there is hardly enough room for one skip, let alone three.

So what is the next stage? SWMPs deal with what happens on site, but it would be beneficial to see their remit being widened to help us actually “design out” waste. With developments such as off-site construction, the industry is already looking at opportunities to reduce waste, and to incentivise such moves through an extension of SWMP legislation seems a highly sensible option.

SWMPs are already useful in gaining high-level commitment to waste management issues from designers, clients, trade subcontractors and waste management contractors. A legal obligation to begin the waste-planning process at concept stage would certainly be helpful.

Compulsory SWMPs bring a much-needed air of formality to present legislation

There is also a need to consider the true costs of design and delivery behaviour with the expansion of the role of key performance indicators (KPIs). In most SWMPs, achievement of KPIs becomes the responsibility of the principal contractor (on most projects the construction manager), who will carry out the final reporting on waste management performance.

KPIs should really be the responsibility of all parties involved - perhaps with ultimate jurisdiction resting with the client, which is responsible for employing all the other parties, after all.

The text of the SWMP regulations and draft guidance, however, actually encourages the client to pass responsibility for the SWMP to the construction manager (the “principal contractor”). This approach does not promote a strategy of designing out waste at the concept stage, which is necessary in order to meet the proposed challenge of halving construction waste to landfill by 2012.

Compulsory SWMPs bring a much-needed air of formality to present legislation, while adding to existing rules already present within guidelines such as environmental impact assessments and duty of care.

However, it will be interesting to see whether they are a great catalyst for change in problem areas such as fly-tipping, and whether floods of site managers will now suddenly have Damascene conversions and rush to sign up.

Whatever happens, there is still much more to be done.