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By Willow Aliento
October 1, 2017
There is a simple principle anyone can apply to reduce the amount of waste generated on a construction site. As Californian resource recovery entrepreneur Daniel Knapp puts it: waste isn’t waste until it’s wasted.
This is something the building industry is starting to really get a grip on, particularly as leading-edge products like road pavement made with recycled printer toner, formwork made from recycled consumer plastics, and cable covers made from recycled food industry films enter the market.
It’s also important for the industry in terms of reducing costs, improving staff morale, and reducing environmental impact, according to the experts.
Jonathan Cartledge, Head of Public Affairs for the Green Building Council of Australia, says that construction and demolition waste currently accounts for 38 per cent of the total waste sent to landfill in Australia.
The average new construction project currently recycles 58 per cent of its construction and demolition waste.
“In comparison, projects with a Green Star rating for completed construction recycle 96 per cent of their construction demolition waste,” Cartledge says. “All Green Star rating tools include a ‘Construction and Demolition Waste’ credit to reward management practices that minimise the amount of construction and demolition waste from building works that is disposed to landfill.”
Gaining the credit requires the use of waste contractors and waste processing facilities that have been independently verified for compliance with minimum standards of reporting.
He says there are many ways that tradies and contractors can help reduce their onsite waste. The example of a recent project in Perth highlights how. The office fitout for Frasers Property Australia achieved a 6 Star Green Star rating for its Perth office fitout.
“Through clever planning and a deep commitment to innovation, the team sent just 0.35 kg – less than a bag of sugar - construction and demolition waste for each square metre of the site,” Cartledge explains. “This earned the project team the first Innovation points for waste in the Green Star – Interiors rating tool.”
Because the project was a refurbishment, the lightweight nature of waste streams meant that more than 95 per cent could be recycled through a co-mingled collection bin. This was collected only when full.
“It sounds simple, but by limiting the number of commingled recycling bins available, and ensuring subcontractors were on board to reduce, reuse, and recycle site waste, the project team controlled the unnecessary disposal of materials and the journeys to and from the waste facility. This process was both sustainable and cost-friendly, as it reduced landfill levies and transport costs.”
It’s not just the waste generated from construction itself teams can redirect from landfill. Tools, gadgets, gizmos, and batteries can also be diverted – and should be.
Carmel Dollisson, CEO of the Australia New Zealand Recycling Platform [ANZRP], which operates the TechCollect program, says everyone has to be responsible for their consumption and use of technology.
Sending anything to landfill means wasted resources. In the case of pollutants or hazardous substances involved, such as heavy metals or plastics, it is also creating a problem for future generations, Dollisson warns.
There is also no need for many items and materials to end up heading for the tip as waste. Technology such as laptops, iPads, phablets, or mobiles that have become redundant may have opportunities for re-use by others, she says.
If it cannot be re-used, then responsible recycling through a scheme such as ANZRP’s TechCollect program is crucial. TechCollect ensures that all e-waste is fully recycled and valuable materials including metals reclaimed.
Dollisson says it is a simple process for users – just remove all the data from the device, then drop it off to a TechCollect site.
Contractors and trades can also recycle cables, monitors, TVs, and all computer peripherals including keyboards, printers, scanners, faxes, and switches that are classified as waste during construction, demolition or defit and fitout works.
In terms of reducing the amount of e-waste a building or trades firm generates, Dollisson says the first step is to research purchasing decisions. Look at whether the manufacturer has a take-back program for end-of-life, and whether it is using any recycled materials in its new products.
“There are some leaders in the field that design products from an environmental point of view,” she says. “They take out the toxic materials, and they are reusing recovered materials, such as plastics. Looking at those things is an important part of the purchasing decision.”
She says you can often find this information at the manufacturer’s website in the environmental section or under its corporate social responsibility section.
“If they don’t have that information, they are probably not a company to support,” Dollisson states.
Beyond e-waste, Dollisson notes that concrete and steel waste generated during construction or demolition also have well-established recycling channels.
The benefit of better practices is that companies can promote their efforts to customers and stakeholders. According to Dollisson, “It puts you in a leadership position in the industry.”
Studies have also shown implementing good recycling practices has tangible benefits in terms of staff retention and engagement – because people really do want to work for companies that do good. She suggests this can be enhanced even further by providing facilities for staff to bring in recyclables such as toner cartridges, paper, and e-waste from home.
In many states, avoiding landfill has a genuine bottom line benefit as well as an ethical one. New South Wales, South Australia, and the ACT all have fairly hefty landfill levies, designed to encourage the diversion of waste to recycling. Queensland, however, doesn’t.
One of the recommendations ANZRP has made in a recent White paper is for national harmonisation of waste rules and charges. Dollisson claims consistent costs and rules would enable the government to manage waste better.
“We really need to get to that harmonised position. Otherwise the path of least resistance and lowest price will always rule.”
Batteries, including rechargeable power tool batteries, have long been a waste bugbear. Director of Ecolibrium John Gertsakis says batteries under 5KG have been placed on the Prority Product List under the Product Stewardship Act in Australia for potential action through regulation or voluntary accreditation.
Currently, less than five per cent of batteries placed on the market each year are recycled; some battery types may contain hazardous substances that may be harmful to the environment and humans, he explains.
A major power tool battery collection and recycling trial project was conducted in Brisbane in 2016. The trial projects was funded by the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (QEHP) and conducted by the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative (ABRI), MRI and Planet Ark. It also had proactive support from major power-tool manufacturers and retailers, including Bosch, Bunnings, Trade Tools, Milwaukee and De Walt.
Gertsakis says one of the key recommendations from the trial was to explore the potential to provide collection and recycling options at major construction and development sites. That is where professional or industrial users and tradies are likely to dispose of old, unwanted or damaged power tools and their batteries.
The Battery Industry Working Group established by QEHP, represents a range of industry and government stakeholders, and is currently developing the framework for a national battery collection and recycling scheme with the initial focus on rechargeable batteries.
“Battery recycling is likely to become a priority area for national product stewardship action during 2017/2018, and this will also include attention to 'big batteries' used for renewable energy storage, as well as batteries used in electric vehicles and bikes,” Gertsakis says.
Overall, Gertsakis says that waste management and resource recovery requirements are important elements in any induction process for work sites.
“Not unlike OH&S and workplace safety activities, waste management and recycling should also be included in training materials, induction and ongoing staff education,” he says. “Such on-site training can help better manage risks, keep workers safe, and better control the recycling of hazardous substances.”
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