Construction waste is best tackled from the earliest stage of a project, not just on site, according to a new design guide.

Designers are being urged to do more to minimise waste in the construction industry and recognise that the problem is not just something to be dealt with on site. Designing out waste: a design team guide for buildings, from the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), is intended to help engineers and architects to tackle the issue in the early stages of projects.

WRAP is a not-for-profit company, setup in 2000 with government backing, that works to prevent waste and promote recycling and sustainable products.

Of the 170-plus signatories to WRAP’s campaign to halve construction waste to landfill, more than 70 are contractors. Bovis Lend Lease and Wates are considering fines for subcontractors that fail to support them in meeting waste targets. Clients account for nearly 50 signatories, from the retailer Asda to public-sector clients such as the Scottish government.

Designers are under-represented – a trend no doubt linked to the belief that reducing waste is the responsibility of those on site. While it is true that the waste associated with building services and mechanical engineers is less by tonne in materials terms, this should not be an excuse for M&E engineers to avoid playing a part in tackling the problem.

Dave Marsh, project manager for WRAP’s construction programme, says: “We’re keen for design teams to embrace the unique position of influence that they have at the design stage, where the greatest opportunities for designing out waste can be found and the greatest benefits secured. By working closely with architects, M&E engineers can overcome some of the obstacles that can lead to materials being unnecessarily wasted on a project.

“For example, M&E works will often be programmed for installation after walls have been drylined, thereby creating significant amounts of plasterboard waste. Similarly, by carefully planning the location and installation of services to ensure easy maintenance or upgrade access, materials wastage can be further minimised.”

The Designing out waste guide gives advice on how to achieve materials resource efficiency and quantify the financial and environmental benefits. It also provides an overview of the basic principles of reducing waste through design.

The potential for financial and environmental savings was demonstrated on the £215m Tate Modern extension in London, due to start on site next year. WRAP worked with the architects, Herzog & de Meuron, VOGT Landscape and the project manager, Gardiner & Theobold, to identify potential ways to cut waste.

It was calculated, for example, that using a fair-faced finish rather than drylining finish for the internal walls would produce total project cost savings of just under £50,000. Reusing demolition material for landscaping, instead of disposing of it and importing new material, would produce project cost savings of £89,000. Reusing demolition material would avoid 200 lorry trips and divert 280 tonnes of waste from landfill. This would cut the overall energy consumption of the construction process and reduce local impacts such as noise, dust, and infrastructure wear and tear.