Construction sector must aim higher in Scotland

Written by: Stephen Boyle | Published:

With nearly 50,000 construction enterprises in Scotland and more than four million tonnes of waste produced in 2014, the sector is the country’s single largest waste producer. Stephen Boyle, construction programme manager at Zero Waste Scotland, explains how construction businesses can reduce their waste – and save money too

Construction is a crucial part of the Scottish economy, but we must acknowledge that it is by far the largest contributor to landfill tonnages too. Recycling performance has improved in the sector over the years, but there is lots more work still to be done in preventing the waste from ever being created in the first place.

There are opportunities to prevent construction waste at every stage of the build project, from design to procurement through to end-of-life deconstruction. For example, the vast majority of construction materials are generated from virgin materials. This is despite the fact that in many cases substitute materials with a high value of recycled content are available in the market.

We also know that critical materials for Scotland’s economy include timber products and aggregates (including stone and soil). Scotland is a major producer of both, and the construction sector is a primary consumer.

Aggregates and timber are currently imported in significant quantities and are vulnerable to supply chain disruption and fluctuating prices. So, in this instance there are significant opportunities to reduce dependency on imports, improve supply chain resilience and increase circularity.

The circularity of other construction products could, with tailored intervention and support, be rapidly improved to address existing market failure and lack of appreciation of the ‘true value’ of materials.

We’ve been supporting construction SMEs through our Resource Efficient Scotland advice service. Seeking support and making use of our expert advice is a great way to show commitment to change, as well as realising significant savings and reducing environmental impact. For example, one simple practice to maximise the recycling and re-use potential of materials collected is to use different containers for collecting soils, aggregates, plastics and timber. This is because they are no longer fit for recycling if they are contaminated by cement slurry, bitumen products, glass or liquid wastes, reducing your income from the recyclate you collect.

As we see firms benefiting commercially from marketing their operations as more resource-efficient, so too will we see waste-reducing procurement requirements taking hold. Those who are demanding higher levels of waste and resource management performance to meet planning conditions, building standards and environmental assessment criteria will also be the ones that really benefit on the bottom line.

Fact file: Resource Efficient Scotland statistics

  • An average three-bedroomed house can produce up to 13tn of construction waste
  • If demolition and excavation waste is included, this can rise to 20tn
  • Construction generates about 50% of all Scottish waste (4.2Mt annually)
  • The European Union has set a target of 70% recycling and re-use of construction and demolition waste by 2020
  • The construction and built environment sector is the biggest user of materials in Scotland 9around 50% of all inputs)

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