Constructive Thinking

CIWM deputy chief executive and Fellow of the Institution, Chris Murphy, looks at the issue of commercial and industrial waste in the UK and at the EU’s Construction and Demolition Waste Management Protocol


The municipal waste stream has long been the focus of attention for local and central government, probably because it is the subject of targets from the EU and is the waste stream it can have most impact upon. The largest waste stream in the UK and Europe, however, by volume (and because of its dense nature, also by weight), is the construction and demolition (C&D) sector. Across Europe, some 871m tonnes of C&D waste is generated – 33 percent of the total. Thankfully, in the UK, a huge proportion of this waste is recovered and recycled – it is a real success story.

In the UK, in 2010, 50m tonnes of non-hazardous C&D waste was generated and 43m tonnes (88 percent) recovered. As the construction sector recovered over the next five years, the tonnage of waste generated increased to 55m tonnes, but the recovery rate also increased to 90 percent – 20 percent higher than the 2020 EU target rate. This level of success isn’t replicated across Europe and, because of that, the Commission produced an EU Construction and Demolition Waste Management Protocol towards the end of last year.

Its aim of was to address barriers such as the lack of confidence in the quality of recycled C&D waste materials, which in turn reduces and restricts the demand for C&D recycled products and inhibits the development of C&D waste management and recycling infrastructure. The protocol fits with construction and resource efficiency strategies, as well as contributing to the Circular Economy Package, and it is hoped that the actions it contains will contribute to all of Europe reaching the Waste Framework Directive target of 70 percent recycling by 2020.

The benefits of the protocol go beyond the usual suspects listed above and into increased cooperation along the waste value chain, greater demand for secondary materials, generation of reliable C&D waste statistics and more harmonised EU markets for recycled materials.

Raising Awareness

The stakeholder list includes public and private sector bodies, construction and waste sectors and certification bodies. The protocol aligns some of those stakeholders with key issues, such as standardisation of secondary materials to increase confidence that they are fit for purpose and capable of replacing virgin materials. Public sector bodies are included as key stakeholders and their clear role is in influencing procurement to ensure the use of recycled materials wherever possible and to raise awareness and acceptance of these materials.

It is for this reason I am a little disappointed that one of sectors excluded from the protocol is design. If we could encourage the architects and designers to include significant elements of recycled material and specify products with recycled content, we could resolve many of the barriers listed above.

From a UK perspective, there appears to be a lot of obvious stuff in the protocol. Perhaps that is because the UK is so advanced in this sector we take much of it as the norm when in many countries in the EU this is not the case.

For example, it states that improved waste identification, separation and collection at source are the start of the C&D waste management process. Among the issues to be considered are pre-demolition waste audits, waste management plans, the elimination of hazardous waste and the avoidance of contamination – no shocks there. I think we would all agree that keeping materials separate will aid recycling and maintain a higher value for the product.

If separation demands extra effort or transportation, the additional value must be balanced against the cost of achieving the cleaner product. Following the waste hierarchy offers wide-ranging benefits in terms of resource efficiency, sustainability and cost savings, which is a good principle to adopt in any case but makes even more sense for heavy, reasonably clean and recyclable waste streams such as C&D.

All in all, it is a very useful document that also includes a series of interesting best practice examples from across the EU, references to the contributory regulatory framework, integrated waste management strategies and enforcement.

This article was first published in the February CIWM Journal. To see a sample issue in full, click here

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