Waste and sustainable commercial buildings

26 May 2008
Alison Terry and Trivess Moore
Your Building

Authoring team for the foundation article

Lead authors:
Alison Terry and Trivess Moore
Contributors: Mary Casey, Peter Andrew, Peter Hosking, Trudy Ann King, Craig Roussac, David Raina, Richard Hansen, Tony McDonald and Suzette Jackson






Commercial buildings account for the majority of Australian solid waste production, which stems from their construction, demolition, refurbishment and operation. Sustainable commercial buildings aim to minimise the amount of waste created throughout their life cycle. In traditional commercial building construction, demolition and operation waste reduction and avoidance are not often given ample consideration. However, this is an area in which there is much potential for improving environmental, economic and social outcomes.

Each industry group has a potential impact on the amount of waste generated from a commercial building. Waste from the operational phase of a commercial building may include structural materials and systems, fit-out fixtures, fittings, furniture, equipment and office consumables.

Construction, major renovation and demolition generate significant, but intermittent, waste volumes. However, fit-out churn and maintenance produce significant volumes of waste over the life of the building, much of which currently ends up in landfill. In a sustainable commercial building, all industry groups are required to take responsibility for the waste they generate, with the aim of reducing this waste and its associated impacts.

This article defines waste as it relates to commercial buildings, and looks at how and where waste is produced. The article outlines:

  • the importance and benefits of waste management and waste avoidance for different industry groups, as well as the associated risks
  • the major impacts and sources of waste over the life cycle of a commercial building, including the design, construction, building operation, refurbishment and demolition phases
  • waste policies, regulations and standards, as well as the major drivers behind them
  • likely future impacts of waste
  • methods for waste measurement and assessment
  • opportunities for improving waste avoidance, minimisation and management strategies
  • strategies for implementing waste avoidance, minimisation and management strategies
  • links to case studies
  • links to templates and check-lists, and to other waste-related resources.

The discussion in this article will enable individuals, whatever role they play across the industry, to:

  • more clearly understand and value the benefits of reducing waste
  • gain a greater understanding of the issues, risks and benefits associated with waste.



What is waste?

In the commercial building context, waste is described as unused materials and products, off-cuts left over from construction, refurbishment or demolition activities, or by-products and materials consumed during business activities and building management and maintenance. Buildings in OECD countries generate approximately 40% of waste going to landfill (OECD, 2003). Furthermore, the Australia: state of the environment report (DEH, 2001) identified Australia as one of the top ten solid waste generators in the OECD. Waste from construction and demolition activities represents 37% of all waste (by weight) (OECD, 2003; DEH, 2001).

Solid waste falls into a number of categories: recyclable, re-usable, landfill, hazardous and compostable. It does not refer to residuals like waste heat generated from equipment and lighting etc., or waste water.


How is it produced?

All instances of waste generation within the building life cycle result from specification and purchasing decisions associated with each industry group's activities. The waste mix and volume differs at each life cycle stage (see Where is waste generated?). However, packaging is a consistent component across the groups and needs to be considered as an integral, but distinct, component within building-related waste streams.

As stated above, Australia is in the top ten OECD countries for waste generation. Of the 1.2 tonnes per capita of solid waste disposed to landfill in Australia each year, around 33% is construction and demolition waste (across all sectors). About one-quarter of the volume is concrete, while the remainder is timber, metal and plastics (Ashe, Pham & Hargreaves, 2003). Approximately 85% of construction and demolition waste is from building demolition. Of this, renovation and refurbishment generate the highest volume to landfill (Miller, Khan et al., 2005).

The set of tables titled "Refurbishment, re-use, repair and recycling guide" at the bottom of this article provides a summary of priorities for industry groups who are undertaking refurbishment and renovation programs.


Where is waste generated?

Over the building life cycle, waste is generated in the construction, use (operation and refurbishment) and demolition phases (see the Sources of major impact section in this article for more details on life cycle waste generation). Construction and demolition activities often occur simultaneously at new building and refurbishment stages, but generate different types of waste from a variety of activities. Operational waste generates a different set of wastes again, largely from business activities.

Construction and demolition phases

In the construction phase, waste is largely due to:

  • site excavation and existing building demolition
  • design changes (usually stemming from over-specification, poor detailing, late variations, changing materials previously ordered, and alterations to completed work) (Love & Li, 2000)
  • leftover or surplus materials (from specification of non-standard materials and products and custom-made elements)
  • poor on-site materials control (storage and handling), which requires additional replacement materials to be purchased
  • waste from packaging and non-reclaimable consumables
  • insufficient protection of completed works (including vandalism and theft), which requires repair and/or replacement
  • cost and program delivery pressures, often leading to working practices that are not conducive to conserving materials and avoiding damage (Dainty & Brooke, 2004).

Operational phase

In the operational phase, the most significant sources of waste relate to:

  • the day-to-day business activities of tenants
  • the cleaning maintenance activities of management
  • cyclic (churn-associated) tenancy and base building refurbishment activities

Great Forest Australia

Great Forest Australia undertakes commercial waste audits and waste management plans (WMP) for building managers and individual tenants. Experience and anecdotal information from the company has identified that, on a day-to-day basis, up to 75% of office waste is paper and cardboard-based and sourced from tenant business activities. The remainder is generated by building management activities. Of the total waste volume generated within a building, approximately 90% is recyclable (mainly paper, cardboard, glass, metal and electronic waste, although the latter is decreasing due to leasing arrangements).

One of the dilemmas in implementing an effective building-wide WMP is that whilst waste is largely generated by a diverse group of tenants, waste collection is the responsibility of the building managers, and is usually undertaken by cleaning contractors responsible for the whole building. Implementation across such a diverse, and not necessarily motivated, group can therefore be difficult.

Anecdotally, management response to implementing plans across diverse tenant groups as been that waste regulation would be a more effective mechanism than waste policy and voluntary programs (like WasteWise and Green Star). Voluntary programs and policy have achieved great results in waste reduction.

Accounts of WMP's implemented with clear operational guidelines, and importantly, accountability for meeting waste targets, show that results of over 50% improvement in recycling waste and 60% reduction in waste costs can be easily achieved. Regulation may provide the means for achieving this level of improvement on a broader scale.

Source: Peter Hoskins, Great Forest Australia

See also the case study of Fluorescent lamps, Investa Property Group
See also the case study of Recycling of fluorescent tubes and HID lamps


Packaging waste is common to all building life cycle activities. Construction elements, fit-out materials and equipment that require a high level of protection (often due to tight building schedules and transport) generate a high proportion of packaging in the waste mix. During the operational phase of a building, many high-turnover consumable items, such as paper, lighting and cleaning products, have significant packaging for not only the individual product, but also for products bought and transported in bulk.

Packaging in itself, when considered with the product it contains, is often not a major issue; but it does constitute a waste that needs to be considered in waste minimisation strategies and within 'green' purchasing criteria. Packaging is often more of a waste issue during the business operational phase than during construction and demolition; however, it still needs to be dealt with appropriately at all stages of a building's life cycle.

The importance and benefits of waste management and waste avoidance

  • Why is it important?
  • What are the benefits?
    • Economic benefits
    • Business performance benefits
    • Triple bottom line benefits
    • Reduced building and fit-out churn
    • Benefits for the owner
    • Benefits for developers and contractors
    • Benefits for designers
    • Benefits for occupiers
    • Benefits for managers
  • What are the risks?


Why is it important?

Waste avoidance, reduction and management are strategies that are increasingly becoming important across industry groups. The degree and relevance differs for each group, but the rationale of efficiency and effectiveness across economic, social and environmental arenas is a common driver.

In terms of waste, efficiency and effectiveness relate to:

  • closing the loop on materials flow (i.e. reducing and avoiding resource loss to landfill (and elsewhere) and reducing the associated costs, as well as any chemical and ecological hazards)
  • reducing the rate of extraction and processing of raw resources and the associated costs, as well as any chemical and ecological hazards

Ecological hazard of fluorescent lighting as waste

Fluorescent lighting is a ubiquitous product throughout the commercial building sector. In Australia approximately 100 million fluorescent lights are replaced every year. Due to maintenance practicalities, many are replaced before the end of their service life. Most are sent to landfill, along with their packaging. As a landfill waste, the equivalent of one tube (containing 10mg of mercury) can contaminate 30,000 litres of water beyond safe drinking standards. As such, run-off and ground water are not safe from leachate.

In a commingled recycling stream, the mercury component can contaminate other recycled materials. Despite this, all the materials in fluorescent tubes are recyclable: aluminium is re-smelted, the glass is used by Visy, the phosphorus is used in agricultural fertilisers, and the mercury is used in dental amalgam.

The sole Australian recycling plant for fluorescent lights is in Victoria, and while it is capable of recycling all of Australia's fluorescent waste, it currently only recycles approximately 1%. The plan to phase out incandescent lights by 2009 will increase the use of fluorescent lighting. If recycling is not increased, waste stream mercury contamination will continue, as will the loss of resources that have clear closed loop value.

Source: Advanced Recycling Australasia, 2007


What are the benefits?

Economic benefits

Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of materials flow can generate economic benefits. Typically, these tend to drive the uptake of waste strategies. For example, waste minimisation strategies developed for the Australian WasteWise construction project reduced the budgeted amount for waste removal by approximately 50% (Miller, Khan et al., 2005).

Business performance benefits

For all industry groups, waste avoidance, reduction and management are increasingly recognised as under-explored activities for improving business performance. In addition to potential economic benefits, these practices can contribute to reducing risk and enhancing social and corporate responsibility (see Business cases for sustainable commercial buildings on the Your Building website for more information). They can also generate good public relations and may improve an organisation's business continuity by attracting like-minded clients, customers and employees. The cost-reduction benefits are a small component of operational costs, but tracking and controlling waste is part of the overall strategy to improve organisational performance and outcomes (for examples of waste strategies, see Investa waste strategy and GPT waste strategy).

Triple bottom line benefits

Implementing waste reduction, avoidance and management strategies can generate cost savings, and can result in resource conservation, pollution and emissions prevention, landfill reduction, and OH&S benefits. Taking part in waste programs also raises awareness and generates behaviour change across industry groups. This may include improving an individual's understanding of the waste implications of purchasing decisions, not only related to their professional activities, but also to their personal purchasing habits.

This, in turn, has ramifications across the supply chain and has the potential to further embed behaviours that reduce waste streams and divert materials and products to appropriate recycling and re-use pathways, resulting in closure on materials loops.

Reduced building and fit-out churn

Churn can be defined as 'the relocation of people within a building, undertaken in response to changing service delivery and functional requirements' (Queensland Government, 2006). 'Typically a tenant leases a vacant space with no internal walls or workstations and sets about designing and constructing its own unique office environment. At the end of the lease, the space is returned to its pre-lease condition ready for the arrival of the next tenant. This process, often referred to as 'churn', is one of the biggest sources of waste from the property industry' (Investa, 2006).

From Investa's experience, according to Craig Roussac, the fit-out churn range in Australia is between approximately 7.5% and 11.5% per annum, which means that the average life of a typical office fit-out is just over ten years. Churn is typically associated with a cross-section of trades; down-time for strip-out, demolition, and refitting; and high levels of dust, emissions and waste generation.

Strategies such as the use of demountable partitioning, mobile and adjustable furniture, and raised floor systems (allowing ready access and re-routing of data and communications) enable faster, cleaner churns, resulting in less waste, reduced down-time and improved lease returns (see Business cases for sustainable commercial buildings on the Your Building website for more information).

In addition to use phase savings, waste-avoidance approaches at design and construction (such as design for disassembly and modular design) can also contribute to reduced waste from building and fit-out churn over the life cycle of the building. According to research from Delft University (Durmisevic, 2006), design for disassembly and appropriate installation have the potential for very large (up to 80%+) reductions in the environmental impacts of buildings.

Benefits for the owner

For building owners, waste avoidance, reduction and management at the operational phase have long-term implications in terms of building maintenance and service life. However, decisions made at the design, major refurbishment and demolition phases are also significant. As well as being a good corporate management message, an asset procurement and facility management strategy that addresses waste provides drivers for design and construction practices, which in turn have the potential to lead to significant financial advantages.

The benefits of waste management and avoidance for owners include emissions minimisation, energy efficiency, reduced space requirements, reduced downstream impacts, and flexibility for clients.

Benefits for developers and contractors

For developers and contractors, the construction and demolition phases are important because they generate a significant one-off volume of waste, either from new building or from refurbishment and fit-out. Both waste sources need to be effectively managed and controlled in order to optimise contract performance and time, cost and quality outcomes, and to derive optimal financial returns and risk management, particularly in light of the space and time constraints associated with refurbishment.

The benefits of waste management and avoidance for developers and contractors include better execution of site management plans (including site control) and performance reporting, reduced costs for waste disposal, less space requirements, better OH&S, and less time spent on dealing with waste. If waste management strategies are undertaken well, cost avoidance is generated from appropriate purchasing decisions, and cost reductions are generated with reduced waste volume and mix.

Construction and demolition wastes

Construction and demolition (C&D) of buildings contributes 30% to 40% of all solid wastes disposed at landfill in Australia. This equates to approximately eight million tonnes nationwide or 430 kg/year per capita. C&D waste streams are dominated by large material flows such as concrete, soil/rubble, bricks, clay or timber-based materials, and plasterboard. In Victoria, 1.4 million tonnes of C&D wastes were sent to landfill, of which almost 25% was concrete. Between 60% and 70% of C&D wastes are generated during the demolition of residential and commercial buildings, while the remainder are generated during construction and other forms of civil engineering and road works (DEH, 2001).

While C&D waste streams are large in volume, they generally contain relatively inert materials, which are of low risk for waste management. As such, it is currently economically feasible to recover the higher-grade resources found within the waste stream (such as steel) prior to disposal. As landfill levy's increase, it is likely that more resources will be extracted from the C&D waste stream for re-use and recycling. This will result in a decrease in the percentage of solid waste going to landfill that C&D currently accounts for.

Opportunities for reducing construction and demolition waste exist and have the potential to provide environmental benefits, as well as social and economic benefits, as illustrated in the example below.

C&D waste diversion: cash from trash

'Construction and demolition waste accounts for 25% of municipal solid waste in the US. The sad truth is that most of this dumping is unnecessary. A number of leading contractors (notably Consigli, Shawmut, Skanska, Swinerton, and Turner) have proven that a 50% diversion of C&D waste can be done routinely; many of their projects exceed 90%.

The USGBC's Tom Hicks says 80% of LEED-certified projects divert at least 50% of their C&D waste. C&D waste diversion creates value. "On one project, even though the contractor moaned about it, we just went ahead", said Toyota Motor Sales USA's Sanford Smith, AIA. "We saved $37,000."

The Associated General Contractors of America has taken a few baby steps in the right direction with its Environmental Management Systems program. The AGC says the concept of "beneficial re-use" is gaining currency for recycling debris from highway construction. But the AGC says C&D waste is part of individual EMS plans and will not put a figure on what percentage of C&D waste it will encourage its members to recycle.

It's not entirely the fault of the contractors. In many localities, there are no nearby recycling facilities. Some states have policies that restrict recycling of certain construction materials. But where it can be done, C&D waste recycling is at least cost-neutral, as Building Teams have proven. "We have a 60-acre site just for C&D waste, and we've created a market for recycling in Las Vegas",' says Nellie Reid, LEED AP and Western sustainable design leader at Gensler, referring to the $5 billion CityCenter project.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has drafted a report on C&D waste and expects to release it in early 2007. We encourage the EPA to recommend ways to motivate the construction industry, Associated General Contractors of America, the National Demolition Association, and the Construction Materials Recycling Association to set a goal of 50% diversion of construction and demolition waste from landfill by 2010.'

Source: Green buildings and the bottom line, building design and construction, 2006.

Mary Casey, Senior Consultant with McLachlan Lister speaks from the perspective of a project manager about waste:

"Waste, to my mind, is about understanding resource flows. With rubbish, the most powerful, cost-effective solutions are found by first understanding current usage patterns, and determining alternate paths for outflows to take other than the tip. Finding partners for whom your client's waste is raw material for their primary process is ideal ... This is about management processes and the maxims that "all waste is lost profit", and "what gets measured gets improved". When talking about pollution, it's better to deal with these substances at the source, rather than at end-of-pipe. By assigning value to the reduction of unwanted emissions and expressing improvements in terms of increased profit potential, even the most die-hard sceptic can see the benefits to paying attention to these issues."

Benefits for designers

A significant proportion of shell and core and fit-out waste can be reduced through harmonisation of design with materials selection. It is important for the designer to align all parties to the design intent of waste minimisation, in order to optimise the benefits. The designer's role is to turn requirements that may be explicit or implicit in the brief into effective full life cycle strategies and, at least in capital construction stages, quantifiable outcomes and reporting requirements.

Within the constraints of the brief, the designer should seek maximum durability of materials and design across the fit-out. Where this involves significant additional materials investment, a trade-off decision must be made to optimise the environmental benefits of the additional materials.

Additional materials are more justifiable where recycled content is maximised. The benefits of waste minimisation for designers include design finesse relating to a more informed relationship between good design and materials and products selection. It also improves the collaborative relationship between designers and suppliers, which, in turn, greens the supply chain and minimises local impacts and compliance costs.

Benefits for occupiers

For building occupants, waste management is associated primarily with business activities and business costs. Important objectives are to optimise space utilisation, minimise furniture and equipment churn, and minimise activity-related waste generation.

From a business perspective, waste management can be initiated by green purchasing decisions for furniture, equipment and consumables, and through organisational strategies to reduce waste generation. From a building perspective, waste management can be initiated through green leases. Occupiers who implement such strategies are typically driven by the desire to express organisational aspirations and corporate responsibility. Cost benefits can result from reduced churn, which, in turn, can offset other green purchasing costs.

For links to information about green purchasing, see the Tools section of this article.

Office recycling through increased tenant awareness

Whilst many tenants are implementing effective office waste recycling schemes, uptake across the commercial property industry is sporadic. Excessive amounts of recyclable material are still finding their way into landfill.

The DPIF Fund managed by CFSGAM used a major building refurbishment as the vehicle to introduce a new recycling system. After the situation was appraised through on-site audits, managing agents Colliers International, in collaboration with cleaners, waste removal companies and tenants, introduced a new recycling system focussed on paper, cardboard and recyclable containers.

After a short promotion campaign, results have been outstanding, with the overall recycling rate increasing from 32% to 62% over a six month period. The diversion of 67 tonnes of waste from landfill is equated to saving 107 tonnes of greenhouse gas, 874 trees, 188 barrels of oil, 275,632 kWh of electricity and 2.12 ML of water.

Benefits for managers

The importance of waste management for managers relates to operational effectiveness, satisfying tenants' requirements, and fulfilling the building owner's sustainability mandate. Cost-effectiveness is not seen as a primary motivator, as waste collection and removal represent a small proportion of the maintenance budget; nevertheless, cost savings can still be achieved.

However, as the environmental impacts of building churn become more widely understood, it can be expected that this will become a policy and rating tool focus. Waste from fit-out churn, particularly at tenancy change-over, will then become a major focus for facility managers, particularly through building works and lease contract documentation. In Victoria, compliance with the WasteWise program also provides additional kudos.

Designers, occupants, building owners and managers need to be aware of increases in the availability of product take-back initiatives. These are available through leasing arrangements that reduce waste stream flow, encourage materials re-use, and impact on churn rate. They also encourage the perception of products as services rather than as materials. An example of this is InterfaceFLOR, who have a number of initiatives to reduce carpet churn. One product includes the i2TM Entropy RE®.

Interface also has the Evergreen service agreement, which has significant implications for waste reduction.


What are the risks?

Waste storage, sorting and removal procedures may generate new requirements for occupational, health and safety (OH&S) for construction and demolition workers, building users, cleaning contractors and waste handlers. OH&S issues include injury from lifting sharp or heavy objects, as well as chemical hazards. Industry groups may also face risks to their bottom line profitability, due to increased costs related to time, labour and transport for new methods of sorting, separating and removing construction and demolition wastes.

If construction and demolition waste is commingled on site, the majority of the cost and OH&S risk factors can be transferred to the waste contractor. In both cases, the costs can be offset by the sale of sorted waste, and the reduction or avoidance of transport and landfill costs.

Some known waste-related risk issues include asbestos removal, PCBs, and lead paint in older buildings (see Sustainability Victoria and the Victorian EPA). However, the health and environmental impacts of more recent products (e.g. treated timber (copper chromated arsenate), printing materials (use of heavy metals), and chemical hazards) are not well defined. For this reason, resources like the state-based EPAs and the National Pollutant Inventory* are useful references.

Material safety data sheets (MSDS) are another important source of information regarding chemical makeup, storage and disposal, as well as medical and environmental response information for accidental spillage and exposure. Some, but not all, MSDS' can be found on product websites. The remainder have to be sourced directly from the manufacturer.

The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) provides Australians with free access to information on the types and amounts of pollutants being emitted in their community. The NPI reports on 90 substances from industry and diffuse sources. The location of pollutant sources is also provided. Around 4,000 facilities from a wide range of industry sectors report annually to the NPI. Industrial facilities annually estimate their NPI pollutant emissions, and diffuse emissions are determined by state and territory environment agencies.


Sources of major impact

  • Design
  • Construction and demolition
  • Building operation
  • Refurbishment

The sources of major waste production occur at the construction and demolition stages of the building life cycle. However, activities such as fit-out and refurbishment also produce significant waste over the life of the building.



During the design stage, a great potential for waste avoidance exists via decisions about processes and materials specification (Dainty et al., 2004). Design that keeps materials clean provides more opportunities for re-use and recycling of those materials down the track. When materials are chemically fixed together or use high strength mortar (i.e. between bricks), it becomes very difficult to separate and therefore recycle the materials.

In a new building or major refurbishment, waste avoidance can be further increased via an integrated fit-out, regardless of whether or not the base building and fit-out stages are completed by the same design consultants and/or construction team. However, to optimise waste avoidance, it is preferable if the same team provides both services (or if the same project manager is used). Waste avoidance can also be improved if a major tenant contract is established prior to the design phase.

This enables the tenant's fit-out specifications to be included in the initial brief and integrated at the base building stage, reducing the replacement of/changes to designated base building elements such as floor coverings, ceilings and other fixtures and fittings. Establishing a tenant contract early can also help to avoid the need for mock-up floors to be fitted out as sales aids, thus reducing waste.


Construction and demolition

UK-based research has found that up to 25% of the waste produced from construction sites could be minimised relatively easily through source reduction and/or by improving the management of waste produced on site (Department of the Environment, 2000).

Both construction and demolition activities provide potential for waste reduction or minimisation. Demolition provides the greatest potential for waste re-use and recycling; however, the method of demolition is an important consideration and methods enabling the re-use and recycling of materials may be more labour intensive than traditional methods.

The Victorian EPA states that steel, non-ferrous metal, glass, paper, concrete, brick and cardboard packaging materials are almost 100% recyclable if properly source-separated and uncontaminated. Reduction strategies include (in order of priority):

  • building maintenance (making buildings last as long as possible)
  • building re-use (either part or whole)
  • on-site (and off-site) materials re-use
  • sorting materials for recycling
  • landfilling, which should be considered the last option (councils are often likely to require a waste management plan as a component of the development plans where landfill is proposed).

It is also essential that, in the waste management plan, reduction in waste is measured in mass, volume and as a percentage of material used in the project, instead of the more traditional waste diversion targets. This avoids waste created just to meet percentage reduction targets. For example, in one project, a full pallet of new bricks was sent for recycling so that the company would meet their contractual waste recycling target.

What happens to Victorian construction and demolition waste?

In the 2004-5 financial year, Victoria recycled 55% (by weight) of its solid waste stream of approximately 10 million tonnes. Of this, more than half came from construction and demolition (C&D) activities as shown in the left chart.
The majority of C&D reprocessing sources include concrete, brick, and asphalt (followed by metals and plastics). By weight, concrete makes up more than half of this recycling stream (see bottom left chart). Most of this concrete comes from commercial and civil activities (see bottom right chart).
What does this mean for Victoria in terms of sustainability? In the 2004-05 financial year, the reprocessing of 10 million tonnes of all types of waste saved more than 78 million GJ of energy and 52,096 ML of water, and prevented the emission of more than 4 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. C&D waste and waste from commerce and industry account for approximately 79% of these totals (see top chart).

Composition of concrete, brick and asphalt recovered for reprocessing 2004-5 (left)
Source sector of secondary use materials (by weight) received for reprocessing 2004-5 (right)


Building operation

Composition of typical office waste
(sourced from tenants and building management)
Source: Resource NSW, 2002

On a day-to-day basis, the majority of waste generated in commercial buildings comes from consumables associated with occupant business activities (paper, cardboard, food waste etc.). Management maintenance activities typically generate a smaller proportion of operational waste sources, but can include hazardous wastes such as chemicals, contaminated water or non-recyclable equipment.

Tenants, building management and owners all contribute to tenancy and building refurbishment-associated churn. Churn results from changes in fashion, function, quality, regulation, efficiency and redundancy. Tenant-associated churn relates primarily to furniture and fittings, internal partitioning, carpet and equipment (IT and communications, and related consumables etc.).

Management and owner-associated churn relates primarily to fixtures and fittings (and their consumables), service equipment (lifts, escalators, HVAC systems and monitoring) and the building fabric (internal and external) (see Products and materials and sustainable commercial buildings on the Your Building website for more information).

In both cases, factors other than functional wear are likely to be important reasons for churn (e.g. obsolescence-related sources of waste occur when a tenancy or building is upgraded, or when a tenancy is returned to its pre-lease condition).

Building management activities, particularly regular maintenance activities (such as the replacement of light fixtures), also generate waste. Some maintenance activities, like replacement of commercial lighting, tend to be done on a time/cost basis, rather than when replacement is actually needed. This increases the waste component.



Renovation and refurbishment generates a high volume of waste. In order to overcome this, it is important to implement re-use and recycling strategies aimed at minimising waste generation (Miller, Khan et al., 2005).

Pre-construction strategies for reducing new material use include:

  • accurate condition assessment (prior to design phase), including a strategy for 'repair in place' for new and retained items
  • designing out waste through use of standard, modular units
  • specification of durable materials
  • planning for deconstruction.

Construction strategies that improve economic and environmental practices include:

  • accurate ordering of materials
  • good storage
  • site control practices with an emphasis on monitoring waste.

For examples of waste reduction activities, see the Australian WasteWise construction program and the Zero waste program by the Californian Integrated Waste Management Board.

See case study: Fit-out churn, Investa Property Group
See case study: Modular carpet, Investa Property Group


Policies, regulations and standards

  • Waste policies
    • What current waste policies exist?
    • What is driving sustainable waste management practice?
    • Future policy impacts on developments
  • Waste regulations
    • What current waste regulations exist?
    • What is driving waste regulation development?
    • Future regulation impacts on developments
  • Waste standards


Waste policies

What current waste policies exist?

Current waste policies are based on the National waste minimisation and recycling strategy (NWMRS), which was published by the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC, 1992, cited in CEPA, 1992). The overarching goals of the NWMRS (and subsequent waste strategies) are to:

  • encourage the ecologically sustainable, 'non-wasteful' use of resources
  • reduce potential hazards to human health and the environment posed by pollution and wastes
  • maintain or improve environmental quality (CEPA, 1992).

A target of reducing waste to landfill by 50% per capita by 2000 was adopted in the NWMRS (CEPA, 1992). To help meet the landfill diversion and recycling targets, the roles of extended producer responsibility (EPR) and product stewardship (PS) schemes were also reviewed. These schemes place greater responsibility on producers for recovering or disposing of specific products, including used tyres, plastics, batteries, paper and packaging (CEPA, 1992). Policies related to some of these products are now in place.

The table below lists existing waste strategies and legislation. The majority of these are state-based, but they are based on overarching national strategies. Most policies do not impact directly on the construction sector but rather on upstream commercial and industrial activities. However, the construction sector is included within policy in terms of optimising construction and demolition waste diversion, the imposition of waste levies, and methods to improve waste sorting and reduce contamination (like copper chromium arsenate (CCA)-treated timber and asbestos). The table can also be read in conjunction with the discussion on Waste Regulations below.

Waste strategies and legislation

States and Territories Waste minimisation strategies Legislation
New South Wales Waste avoidance and resource recovery strategy
2006 Waste reduction and purchasing policy
Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 
Waste Avoidance and Resources Recovert Act 2001
Victoria Toward zero waste strategy 2005
Waste wise purchasing policy
Environmental sustainability framework 2005
Environment Protection Act 1970
Queensland Waste management strategy for Queensland 1996 Environmental Protection Act 1994
Environmental Protection (Waste Management) Policy 2000
Western Australia Statement of strategic direction for waste management in Western Australia 2004 Zero waste WA Environmental Protection Act 1986
Environmental Protection (Landfill Levy) Act 1998
South Australia South Australia's waste strategy 2005-2010
Zero waste SA
Environmental Protection Act 1993
Zero Waste SA Act 2004
Tasmania Guide to industrial waste management Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994
Litter Act 1973
ACT No waste by 2010
Environment Protection Act 1997
Waste Minimisation Act 2001
Litter Act 2004
Northern Territory Litter abatement and resource recovery strategy 2003 Waste Management and Pollution Control Act 1998

Other state-based waste policies are included in state Worksafe and EPA requirements regarding the definition, transport and disposal of hazardous waste, the operation of landfills, and recycling operations (including composting). For example, Victoria passed the Environment Protection (Resource Efficiency) Act 2002, which increased the landfill levy and incorporated the Litter Act 1987 into the Environment Protection Act 1970 (Sustainability Victoria, 2006b).

See also the Worksafe Victoria guidance on complying with the Health and Safety (Asbestos) Regulations 2003 (2006 edition).

What is driving sustainable waste management practice?

There appear to be two major drivers for sustainable waste management within the building sector: the broad-based findings of the recent Australian Government Productivity Commission report into waste management, and the sectoral uptake of the Green Building Council's Green Star tool as a design and construction guide.

The Productivity Commission report

In October 2006, the Productivity Commission inquiry report: waste management was completed. As part of its overall review, the report looked at construction and demolition waste and municipal waste within the commercial building sector. The objective of the enquiry was to 'identify policies that will enable Australia to address market failures and externalities associated with the generation and disposal of waste, including opportunities for resource use efficiency and recovery throughout the product life cycle (from raw material extraction and processing, to product design, manufacture, use and end-of-life management)' (Productivity Commission, 2006).

The report found that:

  • Councils in large urban centres are no longer the most appropriate authority to handle waste management issues.
  • Existing waste management strategies, like landfill levies and EPR, are ineffective in reducing waste generation.
  • Landfill levies are not an effective mechanism to reduce waste flows.
  • Too much faith has been put into simplistic policy frameworks, like the waste hierarchy (See left figure).
  • Waste minimisation and resource recovery, in themselves, do not enable a life cycle approach to waste minimisation.

In its concluding remarks, the report stated that 'waste management policy should assist markets to find the balance between waste avoidance, resource recovery and disposal that maximises net benefits to the community' (Productivity Commission, 2006). It also suggested that 'Australian policy-makers have yet to establish the right mix of policies to let this happen' (Productivity Commission, 2006) (see the Future policy impacts on developments section of this article for further discussion on waste policy).

The Green Star rating tool
Within the building sector, waste management drivers have also come from policy decisions by the Federal, Victorian and South Australian governments to use the Green Building Council's Green Star tool as guidance for all new major building works. The Property Council of Australia's building quality matrix also includes a Green Star rating in its requirements for A-grade commercial building classification. Both policy actions have national application and impact.

Green Star waste avoidance, reduction and management strategies include:

  • Green Star — office design v2:
    • Materials section provides credits for recycling waste storage and re-use of façade and structure
  • Green Star — office as built:
    • Materials (see above)
    • Management section provides credits for waste management credits
    • Land use and ecology section provides credits for reduced topsoil and fill removal from site.

Future policy impacts on developments

The Productivity Commission review stated that the overarching objectives of new waste minimisation strategies are, broadly, to protect the environment and conserve natural resources. Two key features of the new waste minimisation strategies that will impact on the way in which policy is developed and targeted are:

  • the requirement to use or consider the waste hierarchy in decision making (see figure titled Waste Hierarchy above)
  • the sharing of responsibility for waste reduction between industry and the community.

As indicated in What is driving sustainable waste management practice? (above), the Productivity Commission considers that the right mix of policies to assist markets to find the balance between waste avoidance, resource recovery and disposal has yet to be established. To this end, the Commission considers that '[although] the State and Territory governments hold most of the policy levers in waste management, the Australian Government has a significant coordinating and leadership role to play. It also has the crucial power to levy indirect taxes' (Productivity Commission, 2006). The Commission sees this power to levy indirect taxes as a virtual necessity in effectively implementing most extended producer responsibility and product stewardship schemes. This is likely to result in both broad and industry-specific waste policy and regulation changes. The Commission lists suggestions for short-, medium- and long-term policy reforms, which will both directly and indirectly affect the construction sector.

Immediate or short-term reforms are likely to include:

  • dropping the use of waste diversion targets
  • tightening compliance with landfill regulations
  • ensuring appropriate cost-recovery practices are in place for all landfills
  • not introducing any new subsidies unless warranted by downstream externalities
  • beginning to phase out landfill levies (and shelving plans to increase or introduce levies)
  • beginning to phase out existing subsidies not based on externalities
  • establishing expert scientific panels as needed to assess evidence of the risks and environmental impacts of waste of concern
  • giving broader consideration to the use of basic forms of pay-as-you-throw charging arrangements at the household level.

Medium-term reforms are likely to include:

  • refining the use of performance-based regulation for landfilling
  • undertaking research into the residual externalities from compliant landfills
  • considering regional responsibilities for waste disposal and resource recovery
  • referring upstream issues identified to appropriate ministries for consideration
  • reviewing the effectiveness and efficiency of existing extended producer responsibility and product stewardship schemes, including the National Packaging Covenant
  • developing consistent classifications and definitions and systems for exempting recyclables from waste regulation.

Longer-term reforms are likely to include:

  • revising waste strategies (and supporting legislation) to focus on reducing the risk of harm to human health, the environment and social amenity to acceptable levels, not on reducing waste or conserving resources per se
  • completing the phase-out of levies and subsidies
  • removing regulatory impediments to the use of recovered materials
  • adopting regional approaches to waste disposal
  • amending planning legislation to make large-scale facilities matters of regional or state significance.
    Source: Productivity Commission, 2006: 395

These objectives will encourage waste policy to expand from a focus on end-of-life reduction to that of life cycle avoidance. For new products and materials, this will include reducing materials flow and closing materials loops. This will impact on design priorities, fabrication processes and service life (or churn rate). At end of life, it will focus on waste diversion. This will improve demolition or disassembly processes and recycling pathways.

These changes will reduce overall waste generation. However, economic, social and political pressures are likely to continue to drive up the costs of waste disposal and, regardless of which authority administers C&D waste, both the community and industry will be affected (Dainty & Brooke, 2004). (See the 'Design for environment' section of Products and materials and sustainable commercial buildings article on the Your Building website for more information).


Waste regulations

What current waste regulations exist?

To meet its international obligations, and to facilitate the cooperative development of national environmental standards and guidelines, the Australian Government has enacted the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989, and the National Environmental Protection Council Act (NEPCA) 1994 (Productivity Commission, 2006). It is also responsible for a number of bi-lateral and multi-lateral trade agreements that have implications for the management of waste.

The NEPCA 1994 provides, among other things, the legislative basis for the Australian Government to regulate the interstate transport of waste. The objectives of the national environment protection measure for the movement of controlled hazardous wastes between states and territories are broadly similar to those of the Basel Convention.

The NEPCA 1994 also provides the regulatory basis for national extended producer responsibility schemes. For example, the national environmental protection (used packaging materials) measure provides the regulatory underpinning for the National Packaging Covenant. The Australian Government is in the process of establishing co-regulatory schemes for computers, televisions and tyres

See table titled Waste strategies and legislation above for more information about state-based legislation.

What is driving waste regulation development?

Two factors are driving changes to waste regulation: the need to reduce waste volume and the need to protect human and environmental health from chemical wastes associated with industrial activity (particularly synthetic chemicals) (Productivity Commission, 2006). Regulation, by its nature, tends to be reactive rather than proactive. For this reason, behaviour change tends to be initiated via organisational strategies and policies before it is enshrined in government regulation.

This is particularly the case for waste reduction, where change is largely driven by voluntary, market-led actions, aided by government incentives. This has been demonstrated in the societal and supply chain uptake of waste reduction strategies like recycling, as well as by the emergence of waste avoidance, minimisation and management strategies (like design for environment and industrial ecology etc.), and guidance and rating tools that aid materials selection for products and buildings (see Products and materials and sustainable commercial buildings on the Your Building website for more information).

However, in terms of human and environmental health and safety, governments and organisations have a duty of care. As this is better supported by regulatory than voluntary strategies, it is the more significant driver of regulatory development.

Information about the effects of chemicals on humans and the environment is publicly accessible via the EPA and other government, research and sectoral organisations. This information relates to discrete, known chemical sources, and aids regulation regarding management, safe handling and disposal. However, to date, the incidental, synergistic chemical interactions associated with environmental pollution have not been adequately understood or profiled. This is the next frontier of regulation.

In an attempt to better profile health and environmental hazards, the US EPA is undertaking a four-year research program to identify the synergistic effects of major chemicals. When available, this information will be internationally accessible and will contribute to the existing body of evidence aiding regulatory decision making supporting human and environmental health.

It is likely that these regulations will predominantly impact on the manufacturing sector, rather than the built environment. However, churn and demolition-associated waste generated throughout the building life cycle may come under scrutiny. For example, PVC and its additives have been under scrutiny for phthalate and heavy metals leachate, and for vinyl chloride landfill gas (Mersiowsky, 2001; Steingraber, 2004).

Future regulation impacts on developments

The implications for commercial buildings of the regulatory drivers described above and the outcomes of the proposed Productivity Commission enquiry (see the What is driving sustainable waste management practice? section of this article) are likely to be increasing regulation and the replacement of landfill levies with taxes associated with future waste generation. This trend underlines the business case for sustainable waste management practice, in both cost savings and reduced risks.


Waste standards

The standards most pertinent to waste are associated with the OH&S standards relating to the handling, storage and disposal of hazardous waste; landfill and recycling operations; and bin dimensions for waste storage.
Further information regarding OH&S standards and regulations can be obtained from the following organisations:

Measures and assessment

  • Waste audit
  • Waste management plan (WMP)

There is currently no established methodology for measuring or reporting on the waste collected from buildings. However, the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC; previously known as DEUS) is expected to launch the waste component of NABERS Office in late 2007.


Waste audit

A waste audit is an effective tool to identify if, and what type of, a waste strategy is needed. It is typically undertaken by consultant auditors in operational scenarios dealing with actual, rather than potential, waste generation (e.g. at the construction, demolition and building use stages). At the design stage (new building or refurbishment), the potential for waste avoidance, rather than reduction and management, is the primary waste strategy.

An audit, if requested, is typically undertaken by quantity surveyors, who evaluate different design strategies for waste avoidance optimisation.

From an occupier/organisational perspective, a waste audit at the operational stage includes a review of business operations and purchasing activities to determine where waste can be avoided or reduced. From a building owner perspective, a waste audit includes a review of building stock (including a review of building operation management and asset management).

The audit may also include a review of business operations and purchasing activities.


Waste management plan (WMP)

A waste management plan (WMP) is typically used in the construction, demolition and building management stages to identify, control and report on waste flows. Increasingly, WMPs are a local government requirement for development applications and are often also an requirement of major capital works programs initiated by Federal and (some) state governments (see ESD design guide for Australian Government buildings and Victorian ESDC guidelines). WMPs are also a component of the environmental management plans undertaken by developers or contractors.

WMPs promote improved design and project management; encourage waste avoidance, source separation, re-use and recycling; ensure appropriate storage and collection of waste and recycling materials; and identify the potential volume of waste going to re-use, recycling and disposal facilities such as landfill. Considering and planning waste management can provide cost savings for the developer in terms of understanding the volume and type of waste generated. It also provides information on how an ongoing waste management plan will operate.


Opportunities for improving performance

  • Waste avoidance
  • Waste minimisation
  • Waste management


Waste avoidance

To avoid waste during construction, fit-out and refurbishment, designers, owners, tenants and facilities managers need to ensure the durability of fixtures and products, both in the physical sense and in the 'look' and 'feel' of a fit-out so that it doesn't date.

Design elements include design for adaptability; design for disassembly; modular design (using standardised materials and building elements); limiting material types and material mixing; provision of adequate storage and access for waste management during building operation; and re-use of existing building elements. For example, basing a design around a raised floor system provides adaptable ventilation and flexible service provision. It also negates the need for plenum ceilings (and compatible fittings) and HVAC ductwork.

Modular tiles have the potential to significantly reduce churn due to wear and tear or tenancy modifications. Specification of recycled-content and recycled materials and components, product take-back programs, component prefabrication, and right-sized, energy efficient equipment also assists in reducing waste. Tender documents and construction contracts need to include waste minimisation strategies and waste management plans at both the construction and operational phases. Establishing major tenant contracts prior to the design phase also reduces overlap of base building and fit-out specifications.

Construction phase waste avoidance potential

  Material Avoidance
Concrete Onsite: retain existing driveways, paths, footings, slabs
Off-site: road and path construction, recycled concrete aggregate
  Bricks On-site: retain existing walls, buildings, fences
On/off-site: re-use bricks, fill rubble
  Roof tiles On-site: retain existing tiles
Off-site: re-use, fill rubble
  Hardwood beams
and other timber, doors, windows, glass
On-site: re-use
Off-site: re-use or recycle
  Doors, windows, glass On-site: re-use
Of-site: re-use or recycle
Fit-out Synthetic and recycled rubber (carpet, flooring) On-site: re-use
Off-site: re-use or recycle
  Fixed partitions (plaster, timber) On-site: some potential for re-use
Off-site: separate and recycle
Landscaping Significant trees On-site: design into new landscaping
Off-site: remove, mulch, process
  Green waste On-site and off-site: mulch
  Overburden Avoid excess excavations

Source: Adapted from Lake Macquarie City Council waste management guidelines, 2004.


Waste minimisation

Waste minimisation strategies include reduction, re-use, repair, recycling, and disposal. Waste reduction provides the most effective long-term benefits. It is achieved in the design phase in terms of space allowance, and energy and materials efficiency. Miller, Khan et al. (2005) state that decisions regarding energy and materials efficiency are designer and contractor-driven, while space allowance is a client-driven decision. However, all decisions are conditioned to some degree by the client's brief and their engagement with sustainability. This either enables or disables the potential to include options for re-use, repair, recycling and disposal throughout the building life cycle.

The link between space utilisation and waste minimisation

Effective space utilisation can have significant, if seemingly indirect, impacts on waste minimisation strategies. This is especially meaningful when considering the cumulative effect across organisations and across net lettable area (NLA) demand. Peter Andrew, of DEGW, has worked with many businesses undergoing major organisational review (typically in association with accommodation change).

He believes there is considerable waste associated with under-utilisation of NLA through poor organisational understanding and poor review of workstation and office utilisation. This type of waste can only be minimised if clients have a good understanding of how their staff work and what they need to support that work.

For example, the occupancy rate for staff in one tenancy may be less than 50%. Another tenancy of the same size, in the same building, may have up to 80% staff occupancy. Regardless, the same level of amenity, service provision and NLA is required to be provided and maintained and needs to be paid for. For this reason, regular organisational review and re-alignment with advances in work practice and technology would provide both financial and resource savings (see Business cases for sustainable commercial buildings on the Your Building website for more information).

Waste minimisation is often considered a low priority in strategic project management, as by the time construction commences, many of the waste reduction opportunities have already passed. Therefore, waste minimisation is often a reactive rather than proactive measure (Coventry, 2001; Dainty & Brooke, 2004).


Waste management

Waste management performance can be improved at the design phase through design, specification and contracting pathways. It is the responsibility of the owner, design team and consultants.

During the construction phase, waste management performance can be improved through planning, purchasing and equipment pathways, and is the responsibility of the project management team and contractors. Planning elements include implementation of an environmental management plan (EMP) and waste management plan (WMP), in which all employees and sub-contractors are educated at the beginning of the project.

This includes the provision of on-site recycling and waste sorting and storage facilities; early consideration of existing buildings and landscaping; and minimising site disturbance and limiting excavation. A 'just-in-time' purchasing policy discourages over-ordering and potential waste. Waste reduction is optimised if coordinated with just-in-time, or staged, delivery and sequencing of tradespeople and contractors. Equipment elements include re-usable formwork.

Green Square South Tower, Brisbane

The project team at Green Square South Tower has made a commitment to recycle or reuse 100% of waste by weight where feasible by implementing a strict waste management program.

The program includes strategies such as procurement of appropriate waste contractor that provides certification that complies with the recycling target, provision of dedicated and adequately sized recycling areas and facilities at on site and in the office and training of all project personnel through induction program and toolbox talks where necessary. All general waste is sent to a bioreactor facility to create sustainable energy.

Source: Leighton Contractors

Waste management at the demolition phase can be optimised through the re-use of structural elements in new development on or off site, or recycled elements on or off site. Fit-out components can be re-used in refurbishment or sold to second-hand dealers. Contracted take-back programs or extended producer responsibility options can be taken up with furniture suppliers.

Kensingtondevelopment – a flagship in sustainable public housing

Waste reduction standards were adopted at the $60 million public housing renewal at Kensington, resulting in a 76% diversion of construction waste from landfill and an approximately 10% saving on waste management costs for the builder, Becton.
One of the objectives of the Kensington Development was to improve sustainability outcomes. In line with this objective, the Office of Housing (Department of Human Services) developed guidelines to improve environmental outcomes on new construction projects and renovations. The guidelines required that contractors minimise waste on projects. Becton embraced the standards by:
 - establishing systems and contracts to separate wastes on site for ease of recycling
 - engaging Collex to provide numerous skips for cardboard, concrete and bricks, steel, timber and general waste.

In addition, Collex and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union provided on-site training and induction for the workers.

Source: Sustainability Victoria C&D success stories

Demolition of Nestle plant at Dennington

City Circle achieved a 98.5% diversion from landfill when undertaking a part-demolition of the Nestle plant at Dennington, near Warrnambool. The demolition task generated 8,873 tonnes of waste, including 8,000 tonnes of concrete and brick rubble. The brick and concrete rubble was crushed using the City Circle mobile crushing plant, and was sold back to Nestle for re-use on site in maintenance applications.

Source: Sustainability Victoria C&D success stories

For more information on waste reduction strategies, see the Sustainability Victoria WasteWise construction program.

Planning for improved performance

  • Strategic planning
  • The role of owners
  • The role of designers
  • The role of developers
  • The role of builders
  • The role of occupiers
  • The role of managers


Strategic planning

For all industry groups, waste improvements can be undertaken within their business (as an organisational activity) and by their business (as a building-related activity). Both activities have their own strategic and chronological triggers. At the construction stage, a waste strategy requires adequate management resources to oversee and enforce its implementation. It also requires that contractors see waste reduction as a core priority with tangible business benefits. It is also important to embed waste reduction as a key performance criterion throughout the supply chain (Dainty & Brooke, 2004).

The sections below describe strategies that each industry group can use when planning to improve performance, including the use of tools and guidance mechanisms. These range from discrete tools like WMPs and audits, to design guidance such as design for environment strategies, ESD design guide for Australian Government buildings, and Victorian ESDC Guidelines. Other examples of planning tools include the City of Port Phillip sustainable design scorecard , City of Moreland STEPS, and Doncaster Hill ESD guidelines, as well as rating tools like NABERS office, the Green Building Council's Green Star, US LEED program or UK BREEAM. Green Star is currently the only national tool with integrated guidance on waste avoidance and reduction.


The role of owners

Owners are able to drive optimisation through the supply chain if they have a clear understanding of the value of waste avoidance and minimisation opportunities in new building or refurbishment situations. In particular, owners can achieve waste reduction benefits through optimal space planning; for example, by ensuring that space allocations are driven by occupant requirements rather than status.

The set of tables titled Refurbishment, re-use, repair and recycling guide below identifies other roles that owners can take, including policy or brief-setting roles.


The role of designers

As a general rule, designers should seek maximum durability of materials and design across the fit-out, as well-designed and durable products are likely to have longer service lives and higher after-market values. Where this involves significant additional investment, trade-off decisions must be made to optimise the benefits for the full environmental cost-benefit. In this regard, designers have the crucial role of refining brief requirements and generalised client statements into deliverable contractual requirements.

This requires an extensive understanding of opportunities for waste reduction by all parties (such as reporting requirements from contractors), as well as the appropriate design and specification of products and materials.
Some methods to reduce waste that designers should consider include:

  • setting appropriate waste prevention goals for the project (i.e. targeting specific waste producing activities) and hiring a consultant if expertise not available in-house
  • using building rating tools to provide guidance on waste reduction options and targets, which should not be set in terms of waste diversion percentages but in terms of volumes, mass or percentage of total material consumption
  • minimising churn through durable design, which incorporates an understanding of how the building will be leased, operated and maintained
  • designing facilities for recycling and waste collection that ensure recycling and waste is correctly separated
  • embedding recycling and waste management specifications in the contract documents, including tender guidelines and subcontracts.

For other roles that designers can take in waste minimisation and avoidance, see the set of tables titled Refurbishment, re-use, repair and recycling guide below.


The role of developers

The role of developers will vary, depending on the procurement approach. Generally, the developer has a duty of care and responsibility over many aspects of specification and construction management, and may be involved extensively in brief development.

Steps that developers can take to manage and avoid waste include:

  • embedding waste management specifications in the contract documents, including tender guidelines and sub-contracts
  • implementing the waste prevention goals identified by the designer for the project
  • creating a waste management team to establish a waste management program and management reporting framework
  • using building rating tools to provide guidance on waste reduction options and targets.

The set of tables titled Refurbishment, re-use, repair and recycling guide below outlines some other roles that developers can take in waste management and avoidance.


The role of builders

Builders' contractual responsibilities are largely set out by the plans and specifications provided to them. However, the success of these strategies depends on effective implementation and, frequently, creative approaches by contractors and sub-contractors to unforseen challenges on site.

The role for builders in waste management and avoidance includes:

  • creating a waste management plan
  • creating the role of on-site waste management coordinator to operationalise the WMP and/or liaise with the waste management team
  • overseeing recycling and waste management initiatives, and ensuring compliance with separation and bin-handling by sub-contractors
  • providing on-site management, induction and education for sub-contractors
  • providing waste management specifications in the contract documents for all sub-contractors
  • organising the site to assist materials handling, including access and storage sites if possible
  • providing site security systems to prevent pilfering and vandalism
  • confining and collecting all litter within the site boundaries.

The set of tables titled Refurbishment, re-use, repair and recycling guide below outlines some other roles that builders may take in relation to waste management and avoidance.

See also NSW EPA, small business, builders, pollution for more information.


The role of occupiers

Occupiers can undertake strategic planning at a number of levels to avoid and reduce waste generation. Some strategies that occupiers may use include:

  • undertaking major and periodic reviews of space allocation and workplace practice evolution, to investigate their relevance to organisational objectives
  • investigating green purchasing options for consumables, equipment and furniture, including take-back programs, second-hand dealers or alternative community-based programs. This also requires a cost-benefit review and implementation strategies, and an environmental evaluation to ensure the strategy is actually of benefit to the environment
  • liaising with building management to determine what level of recycling and waste management can occur (e.g. composting or organic waste), and how this can be supported by management strategies.

The set of tables titled Refurbishment, re-use, repair and recycling guide below includes some other roles that occupiers may take in relation to waste management and avoidance.

See also Waste reduction in offices, DECC NSW.


The role of managers

Facility managers are important stakeholders in ensuring that sustainable procurement practices are integrated into re-fit and churn operations in large buildings. Managers need to understand waste minimisation opportunities throughout the supply chain.
Some strategies that managers can adopt to reduce and avoid waste include:

  • informing building owners as to what is desirable and possible (e.g. rating fit-outs and buildings using tools)
  • ensuring that project briefs include waste minimisation requirements and performance clauses
  • ensuring that designers and specifiers understand and address these requirements
  • monitoring and reporting on project waste performance.

The set of tables titled Refurbishment, re-use, repair and recycling guide below includes some other roles that managers may take in relation to waste management and avoidance.

See also Waste reduction in offices, DECC NSW. 


Implementing and operating for improved performance

  • Owners
  • Designers
  • Developers
  • Builders
  • Occupiers
  • Managers

When new processes are being implemented, they need to be supported with education, documentation and a relevant contact person to clarify uncertainties. It is also often appropriate to reward those who are enabling the process and generating a feedback loop, so that lessons learned are integrated into planned revisions or roll-outs. Support and engagement of staff enables a smoother transition process and undermines resistance.



Owners can support the inclusion of waste avoidance and minimisation strategies through the design brief by:

  • designing for disassembly
  • designing for longevity (i.e. durability and loose fit)
  • establishing waste prevention goals for the project (targeting specific waste producing activities). This may include using tools to guide outcomes that fit the organisation's aspirational objectives.



In the pre-design and design phases, designers should work with the owner to establish cost-effective, life cycle design options to achieve the objectives of the design brief.

Designers need to work with suppliers to optimise the use of standard size products and materials, prefabricated units and disassembly methods. They should also:

  • specify materials that can be recycled, re-used or reprocessed, and/or materials and products with recycled content, as this closes the loop and supports the establishment of supply pathways
  • give priority to suppliers who have a packaging policy (i.e. who use returnable pallets, containers etc., use recycled and recyclable packaging materials, or who minimise packaging).

To help with the design process, designers should:

  • consider using building rating tools to assist the development of waste strategies and targets
  • include waste management specifications in tender documents.



There are many operational opportunities described here and in the role of builders that may become the role of either the developer or the builder and sub-contractors, depending on where the lines of responsibility are drawn on a specific project. However the responsibilities are divided, both groups need to integrate the waste avoidance and minimisation objectives of the design brief into their own activities. Therefore, a waste management team that spans all groups is an important communication tool.

Activities undertaken by developers as part of this waste management team may include:

  • embedding waste management specifications in tender documents
  • integrating cost control, reporting and monitoring of waste minimisation initiatives throughout the project
  • documenting savings and comparing across projects.



Builders should create an on-site waste management team that includes the construction manager, on-site waste coordinator, and the waste contractor to negotiate waste sorting, storage and removal options and opportunities prior to the commencement of construction.

The waste management team (contractor and coordinator) needs to:

  • identify and control all sources of waste, particularly hazardous waste
  • provide an induction and education program for waste management objectives and procedures for all construction workers and sub-contractors
  • establish waste targets and incentive programs to achieve them (including industry awards for the project)
  • report compliance and problems
  • establish a process for materials control and auditing for sub-contractors
  • integrate cost control, reporting and monitoring of waste minimisation initiatives throughout the project
  • document savings and compare across projects.

In addition, builders should establish estimating procedures and site ordering, storage and construction procedures for materials and products, such as:

  • encouraging prefabricated units
  • employing 'just-in-time' ordering, which can reduce over-supply and waste
  • giving priority to suppliers who take back excess building materials for recycling or remanufacture
  • giving priority to suppliers who have a packaging policy (i.e. who use returnable pallets, containers etc., use recycled and recyclable packaging materials, or who minimise packaging).

Builders also play an important role in organising the site, in order to:

  • minimise on-site materials damage through appropriate transporting and handling procedures and all-weather storage facilities
  • minimise theft and damage through security systems.



Occupiers need to take responsibility for their buildings and work towards being sustainable businesses. Due to their daily presence in the building, occupiers can often identify issues with waste that may be overlooked by managers, developers and owners. Therefore, it is important for occupiers to:

  • undertake a waste audit and initiate waste policies in collaboration with building managers
  • instigate a green procurement policy that encourages take-back options
  • undertake work practices and organisational changes that improve space allocation.



Managers should create a waste management team that includes the building manager, cleaning and maintenance contractors, an owner's representative and a tenant representative (if appropriate). This waste management team should:

  • identify and control all sources of waste, particularly hazardous waste
  • provide an induction and education program for waste management objectives and procedures for all tenants and sub-contractors
  • establish waste targets and incentive programs to achieve them
  • establish a process for waste control and auditing for tenants
  • integrate cost control, reporting and monitoring of waste minimisation initiatives throughout the project
  • document savings and compare across buildings.


Case studies

'aWay with Waste Program, Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria, 2002: office waste audit
'aWay with Waste Program, Arthur Rhylah Institute, DSE (Heidelberg, Victoria): energy, waste and water audit, and cost benefit analysis of energy and waste
Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability, Victoria, Annual Report 2004-5


  • Checklists
  • Templates
  • Links





  • WasteWise construction program (DEW (previously DEH)): This site includes steps for preparing and implementing a waste minimisation plan. Also identifies what other companies are doing (e.g. Fletcher Construction, Multiplex, Lend Lease etc.) and includes templates. The site was last updated in 2005.
  • WasteWise program (Sustainability Victoria): This site provides waste minimisation information for organisations.
  • Parramatta City Council waste management plan (demolition, construction and use of premises): This plan complies with the NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act, 2001. It is useful for project managers and contractors, and provides on-site waste strategies and WMP.
  • Demolition disposal: This site provides information about the demolition disposal program developed by EcoRecycle (now part of Sustainability Victoria) as part of their WasteWise campaign in 2001.



  • Green lease guide: This guide was developed by Investa and the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF).
  • Waste reduction and purchasing policy (DEC NSW): This policy identifies office, construction, demolition and other materials information, and 'buy, re-use, recovery and remake' strategies for each area. It also provides links to a range of national and state-based sites.
  • Towards zero waste strategy 2005 (Sustainability Victoria): This strategy includes C&D waste reduction targets by weight (recovery rate of 80% by 2014), performance measures, and regulations and policy initiatives.
  • WasteWise construction and demolition kit (Sustainability Victoria): This kit includes guidelines for:
    • guidelines for preparing a waste reduction strategy for construction
    • guidelines for preparing a construction waste minimisation plan
    • guidelines for preparing a demolition waste minimisation plan
    • guidelines for designing for waste minimisation
    • model contract clauses
    • publications and resources.
  • Search for recycling services: This tool allows you to search by category, product and/or company within Victoria.
  • Guide to the use of recycled concrete and masonry materials: Provided by the Department of Environmental and Water Resources, this site was last updated in 2007.
  • NABERS commercial office buildings: This national voluntary assessment tool, managed by DECC, NSW, currently includes ABGR and a water rating component, but will also include other environmental indicators, such as the NABERS office waste section. This will include waste reduction guidelines for managers and tenants. It is to be launched in late 2007.
  • SMARTWaste Program (UK): This is a suite of tools developed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE). The site provides information on benchmarking, performance indicators and audits, as well as UK case studies.
  • State of the environment 2006: chemicals in the environment: An Australian report on the phenomena of the chemicalisation of the environment, particularly referring to dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs.
  • National Pollutants Inventory (2007 update): This is a national Australian inventory providing information about the types and amounts of pollutants emitted into the environment.
  • EPA: the Australian Environment Protection Authority is administered by the states — South Australia; Victoria; Queensland Western Australia; New South Wales. The site also contains links to international inventories.
  • US EPA integrated risk information system (IRIS): IRIS is an electronic database containing information on human health effects that may result from exposure to various chemicals in the environment.
  • Productivity Commission waste management review: October 2006
  • Annual survey of Victorian recycling industries: This survey by Sustainability Victoria was last conducted in 2006.


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Monash Centre for Environmental Management (1995), Accounting for waste as a business management tool: a best practise guideline, Accessed from Sustainability Victoria website.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2001), Extended produced responsibility: a guidance manual for governments, Paris: OECD.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2003), Environmentally sustainable buildings: challenges and policies, Paris: OECD.

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Sustainability Victoria (2006b), Waste and recycling information sheets, Accessed from Sustainability Victoria website.


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