Categories: Case Studies Sectors: Owners, Occupiers
This Study examined recycling and waste minimization practices on six building projects in Melbourne, Australia.
The projects studied reveal a variety of creative and innovative measures are available to reduce waste and increase recycling.
Indeed, the projects show that when companies give priority to waste recycling, greater than 90% recycling can be routinely achieved.
Sharing this learning across the industry and a program of continuous improvement based on better understanding of the technical processes and the economics of each stage of the recycling and disposal chains could dramatically reduce waste.
Research recommendations would facilitate this sharing.
1.1 Purpose and objectives of the Study
The Building Industry Consultative Council (BICC), which aims to facilitate investment and promote best practice in Victoria’s building and construction industry, commissioned this research to examine recycling practices on current building sites. The Council views waste minimization and recycling not only as opportunities to improve efficiency and profitability, but also as integral components of sustainable construction. This study was carried out from January to June 2007.
The findings of this research are intended to help with the design of a behaviour change management program to encourage property developers, construction companies and construction workers to embrace waste minimization and recycling. The ultimate goal is to increase the recycling of building materials from Construction and Demolition (C&D) sites.
All levels of government are seeking to encourage the building and construction industry to minimize the amount of waste sent to landfill, with landfills filling up fast.
Economic and organizational factors will be investigated. The study recognizes that the volume of waste generated and the level of recycling on construction sites will depend on how aware companies are about potential cost savings, as well as the general attitudes of the project owners and the people working on-site, including site supervisors, sub-contractors and construction workers and trades people.
As many have observed, it seems a lot easier to simply remove waste to somewhere else rather than sort and recycle it, even though the extra effort may have a good payback.
The Study examines current waste management practices and looks at how they could be improved. This will help companies that have not yet seriously considered proper waste management practices to do so. Hence this study will:
Identify the barriers to the uptake of recycling practices in C&D projects;
Identify the relative cost and benefits of different options for the different parties involved in a project; and
Recommend strategies and actions to further improve currents practices.
1.2 Study methodology
The study was conducted in three phases:
Phase 1: Initial research on best practice
Desk-top research on international case studies of building material recycling to identify efficient practices, costs and benefits
Follow-up interviews with key people involved in these projects that explored issues in greater detail.
Phase 2: Site research
Identification of six building sites in Melbourne to be studied, in consultation with BICC members
Approach the companies and union representatives on these sites to seek cooperation with the study
Develop a questionnaire to serve as a guide to structured interviews with a selection of workers, supervisors and OHS people
Conduct interviews and observe site practices.
Phase 3: Report preparation
Write up interviews and observations at site visits
Analyze the barriers to environmentally and economically feasible recycling
Identify possible recommendations to optimize recycling for all parties
Finalize report and the study’s recommendations
2. RECYCLING: BUSINESS DRIVERS AND TRENDS
Recycling, together with re-use, are the middle-of-the-road options in the hierarchy of best practice in waste management. A good characterization is provided in the diagram below.
Clearly, preventing waste is the most preferred option but in the building and construction industry, it will not always be possible as building purposes change and structures must be altered to suit. Recycling is thus the most practical and accessible way of reducing the amount of C&D waste going to landfill. It thereby minimizes harmful impact on the environment, while at the same time saving money on waste-related costs.
Figure 1: The hierarchy of options for waste management
(Source: EPA Victoria 2009)
2.1 Economic drivers for waste sorting and recycling
Australia’s long run of economic growth has been fuelling strong growth in construction activity across the country. As a result, landfill capacity is running out which, in turn, has put upward pressure on tipping charges. To give an idea of landfill charges, it costs $2,200 to tip the load of a 31 square metre-bin in Sydney landfills.
The comparable fee in Melbourne is significantly cheaper at around $900, but this is expected to increase annually with the current Victorian legislation covering landfill (EPA Victoria, 2007).
This rising landfill cost, together with increasing haulage cost and new recycling requirements, have made construction waste disposal a significant cost component of projects. This is providing strong impetus for companies to implement enhanced waste minimisation and recycling strategies. The impact of landfill charges is evident across the different States. NSW has a much higher level of recycling which correlates with its higher landfill charges.
Table 1: C&D waste generation, diversion & recycling, 2002-2003
||Total solid waste generation*
|C&D waste disposed to landfill
|C&D waste recycled
|Proportion of C&D waste recycled |
* Total of municipal; commercial and industrial (C&I); and construction and demolition (C&D) waste.
Source: Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006 Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Waste Generation and Resource Efficiency.
The correlation between landfill charges and levels of recycling suggests that as tipping fees increase, the level of recycling can be expected to grow as well. This begs the question of whether industry change can simply be achieved by increasing these fees and leaving the issue to the market.
This will undoubtedly be part of the solution – as landfill sites become harder to find and are established further from city centres, the fees will naturally increase. However, simply increasing fees faster may not deliver the best overall outcomes because of the usual difficulties in pricing environmental impacts.
It is not in the interest of the economy to overburden the building sector with charges because these will flow through to construction costs, and will find their way to almost all other sectors of the economy and ultimately, to consumer costs.
It would be better to ensure rapid diffusion of best practice in recycling across the whole industry – an informed market is an efficient one and the challenge is to help markets function more efficiently without undue price penalties. How best to achieve this is the subject of this Study.
2.2 Environmental drivers for recycling
In the last two years, an important driver for increasing recycling has emerged with the growing market demand for sustainable building. In particular, the high end of the commercial property market has shifted strongly toward green building. In a recent article, Mr Tony Arnel, the Building Commissioner, cited property valuers’ reports that public concern about sustainability was evident in property valuations, with most action in the Premium and A Grade sector of the market.
Corporate and professional services tenants in this market segment are willing to pay a premium for green offices (Property Australia, 2007).
Tenant demand for green offices is underpinned by major companies' rising conviction of the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to demonstrate their environmental responsibility to customers and shareholders. They also recognise the growing evidence that green buildings indeed provide a healthier environment that increases employee productivity.
Property owners and developers are moving to service this emerging demand. Indeed, the property owners, construction companies and consultants in the six projects in this Study are among the leaders in the 'sustainable building' market. They believe that new buildings and refurbishments that do not deliver good environmental performance will not hold their long-term value because corporate tenants are increasingly demanding green offices.
For a building to be recognized as ‘green’, the developer needs to maintain and monitor sustainable practices, including waste minimization and recycling. For example, under the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) Green Star rating system, projects that recycle C&D waste and use recycled building materials can earn points towards Green Star certification.
Green Star, which certifies the environmental performance of buildings, is a comprehensive, national, voluntary environmental rating scheme that evaluates the environmental design and achievements of buildings (GBCA, 2007a). As an environmental rating tool (GBCA, 2007b), it uses stars to rate the performance of buildings as follows:
4 Star Green Star Certified Rating (score 45-59) signifies 'Best Practice'
5 Star Green Star Certified Rating (score 60-74) signifies 'Australian Excellence'
6 Star Green Star Certified Rating (score 75-100) signifies ' World Leadership'
All but one of the projects studied here aspired to have their buildings certified under the GBCA's Green Star rating system. The GBCA performance indicators are based on the principles of two widely recognised international tools: the British BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method), and the North American LEED (Leadership in Energy and environmental Design).
These two international tools were also referenced in the development of the GBCA’s Green Star tool.
3. SITE PRACTICES: BEST PRACTICE AND BARRIERS
The Study found some best practice C&D waste minimisation in the six projects. It also found a number of critical barriers to good practice, and some of the projects have developed innovative solutions that could be applied to other sites.
The site practices and the barriers to good recycling practice are discussed in the sections below, while the recommendations based on findings at the six sites are discussed in the next Chapter.
3.1 Buy-in from sub-contractors and suppliers
The owners and developers of the six projects incorporated environmental objectives in their initial project planning so assessment of tenders took account of the primary contractors’ waste management strategies. Once the contracts were awarded, the primary contractors (both construction and project management companies) developed more specific and comprehensive waste management plans that included recycling targets. The table below shows the percentage of total waste that each project aimed to recycle.
Table 2: C & D waste recycling targets of projects
In some of the projects, responsibility for achieving the projects’ environment objectives was cascaded down to sub-contractors and suppliers. For example, the primary contractors at Sites 2, 3, 5 and 6 all required their major sub-contractors to provide – before starting their work – waste minimization and management plans for their respective scope of work.
The contractor for site 5 was quite specific in some of the required details for the sub-contractors’ waste management plan. These included:
Two practical measures associated with their works to prevent waste entering on site;
Two waste streams resulting from their works which can be recycled and will be actively managed as part of their waste reduction plan; and
Alternative products containing recycled material that could be utilized in their works, in place of more traditional materials, and which conform and meet the design specification.
3.2 Waste sorting
Conventional construction practice involves the builder merely hiring a waste management contractor to provide and haul away waste bins. Such co-mingled waste had to be sorted prior to recycling, which was a significant cost. If different types of waste can be kept separate, then the potential to reclaim value through recycling is significantly enhanced.
For example, in some of the six sites in this Study, waste was sorted on site into different categories of C&D waste to facilitate recycling and reduce landfill waste. Common C&D waste sorted for recycling include metals, particularly steel and copper wires, concrete, wood, timber, PVC pipes, cardboard and plastics. In all the six sites, separate bins were provided for food waste (putrescible waste).
The extent of sorting is strongly influenced by the availability of space within the project’s confines. The sites 2 and 5 in this Study did not have the luxury of space to be able to sort waste. Generally, one large bin – averaging 12m3 in size – was used for dumping all the construction waste. Separate bins were provided for recyclable ‘kitchen’ or food waste. The bins were then hauled away by the waste contractor for off-site sorting, and ultimately recycling.
At site 5, where one bin was generally provided for C&D waste, an additional bin was sometimes provided for specific materials when there was concentrated work involving such materials; for example, plaster or concrete.
Ample site space at site 3 allowed site workers to comprehensively sort waste by the provision of colour-coded bins at collection points in site areas with major activity. In addition, there were wheelie bins in strategic places for food waste. Site 1 also had some degree of sorting.
The sorting procedure at site 3 involved sub-contractors stencilling their names to the appropriate bins, and when any of the bins was full; they were collected and taken into the recycling compound where they were again dumped into larger, colour-coded bins.
The figure 2 below shows the layout of the site 3 recycling compound.
Figure 2: Layout of the recycling compound at Site 3
The recycling compound included a sorting zone, where plastic, PVC, cardboard and other waste were further sorted. Cardboard and plastics were compacted and baled. Again, when any of the large bins were full, the waste management contractor took it away to recyclers.
Depending on the recycling company, contractor got a rebate for either the transport cost or the amount of recyclable material delivered, or both.
A contractor’s analysis of waste movement and recycling during a three-month period in 2006 delivered an estimated $8,000 in net gain for the site 3 project, generated from transport and product rebates, plus savings earned from not having to send material to landfill.
At site 1, wheelie bins were provided for cans, paper and cardboard, and a larger bin for co-mingled construction waste. In an innovative move, the contractor for the site secured an agreement with a recycler to collect plaster waste. The contractor provides the bin and the recycler, a major Australian manufacturer of construction materials, collects the bin two to three times a week and took it to a depot where gypsum was recovered from the waste.
At site 6, despite its CBD location, the construction company applied lateral thinking to be able to sort waste on-site. Instead of using bins, waste materials were sorted into neat stockpiles along one wall of the building being refurbished. Trucks had access to this side of the building so when a pile reached an economic quantity for transport, the waste contractor collected and delivered it to the recycler’s depot.
The contractor for site 6 explained that sometimes, the only thing that went to landfill sites was food waste. The company said it paid about $300 per tonne to transport C&D waste from the site to the different recyclers.
To save on transport cost, some of the recyclable materials were sold on-site. For example, carpets were removed free of charge by a carpet company which saved time, space and transportation fees. A demolition company was the main waste collector from the site, which delivered the material to a recycler.
Site 6 contractors got some rebate from profits made from the sale of recyclable materials. The recycler also provided the contractor with receipts showing the type and volume of materials recycled to ensure that they did not end up in landfill.
3.3 Recycling reports
To track progress against their recycling targets, all the six companies required their waste contractors to provide monthly recycling reports. Typically, the reports showed the type and volume of waste materials that left the sites, the volume of waste recycled and the amount that ended up in landfill.
The documentation also supported the project’s application for Green Star certification and, in the case of site 4, for its performance rating under the Melbourne Docklands’ ESD Guide.
Interestingly, the same waste company was contracted for all but one of the projects in this Study and had developed best practice reporting on site recycling. According to one of the project managers, the waste contractors’ tender was not the cheapest, but it seemed to offer an optimal waste management strategy.
At site 6, the only project with a different waste company, each sub-contractor was required to submit a certified monthly report on the amount of materials recycled and re-used. Periodic contractual payments were made only if the sub-contractors achieved the recycling target.
Based on the recycling reports, all the projects exceeded their recycling targets, as shown in Table 3 below. Indeed, simply setting a target seems to be the decisive issue. The lowest target set was that of site 4 at 60%. Yet it achieved the second highest recycling rate at 96%. Evidently, the setting of the target focuses attention on recycling and the available opportunities simply present themselves.
Table 3: Recycling achieved by projects
|Recycling achieved |
(Based on a selected month’s report)
||98% - Jan. 2007|
||88% - Jan 2007|
||92% - Jan 2007|
||96% - Mar 2007|
||96% - March 2007|
||90% - March 2007|
3.4 Worker awareness
All the projects agreed that recycling targets were exceeded largely because of the diligence of on-site workers. However, they also observed that there is still room to improve workers’ behaviour in terms of recycling practices and thus achieve 100% recycling.
As a first step to getting worker cooperation, site inductions in all six projects included an explanation of environmental objectives and waste management practices expected of workers, including recycling. Researchers for this Study sat through one of these inductions at site 3, where inductions are conducted every morning. The researchers found that the session was very detailed, covering all aspects of the waste management practices outlined in the project’s waste management plan.
The construction company at site 3, which had extensive sorting bins, went to the extent of making it part of the induction to sign a formal agreement from workers to abide by the waste sorting requirements. The agreement, which was signed by workers and witnessed by representatives of the sub-contractors and the prime contractor, listed the specific materials that needed to go into specific bins.
A $1,000 penalty applied to site 3 sub-contractors whose employees were found to be dumping materials in the wrong bins. A ‘subcontractor-beware’ policy was also at work at site 5, where sub-contractors found to ‘contaminate’ bins were liable for the cost associated with tipping or sorting of waste. This applied, for example, when food waste was thrown into the general C&D waste bin, or construction waste was mixed with the food bins.
Despite the efforts at induction and the stick-approach, mixing of waste streams and contamination still occurred. Neither site 3 nor 5 had yet applied the penalties. However, at site 3, an intermediate pre-penalty step was applied several times, and this helped to drive some behavioural change.
This intermediate step was the Non-Conformance Report (NCR) which was served on sub-contractors whose employees were found mixing up waste. A sub-contractor who received an NCR was then required to sort the mixed-up bin on-the-spot, before the bins were transferred to the main recycling compound.
In all, four NCRs were issued and according to the site 3 manager, one sub-contractor who initially ignored the sorting requirement repeatedly became the ‘best recycler’ among the on-site sub-contractors.
The pictures below, taken by researchers on some of the sites visited, show both good and bad practices. Figure 3 showed that steel had been disposed off in the correct bin, while Figure 4 showed how a bin for concrete had been mixed with other materials like plastics and cardboard. This is a typical example of a bin that would be rejected by the recyclers unless it was first sorted. Recyclers also reject C&D waste that has been contaminated by putrescible waste.
Figure 3: Steel correctly disposed of in the correct bin
Figure 4: A concrete bin mixed up with other waste
Waste mixing and contamination occur partly because of some workers’ entrenched habits. A site manager noted that most of the older construction workers (45 years older) found it more difficult to change their old waste disposal habits than their younger counterparts. He added that some workers were not motivated to go the distance and would dump waste material to the closest bin even if it was not the appropriate bin.
Another site manager revealed that the level of understanding and appreciation of recycling often depended on the nature of the workers’ trades. For example, electricians and plumbers knew they could make money from recycling materials such as wires and pipes.
The site 6 supervisor found that leading by example helped change behaviour. For example, the contractor stopped providing disposable cups (for coffee and tea) and plates, which significantly reduced the amount of food waste sent to landfill. Because they have brought their own cups and plates that needed to be washed, the level of food contamination also declined considerably.
3.5 Waste minimization and materials re-use
Besides setting recycling targets, waste minimisation is also a critical part of all the projects’ environmental management plans. Most of the site managers said that there was considerable amount of packaging ending up in their bins and some of the companies had already incorporated this into their waste management plans. In some cases, subcontractor contracts included an undertaking to minimize the packaging they brought into the site, and re-used off-cuts wherever possible in their scopes of work. This was the case at four of the six sites studied.
In addition, the contractor for site 4 encouraged sub-contractors not to over-order materials so residual material on the project was reduced. Just-in-time delivery of construction materials was also practiced to reduce storage on-site and thus minimize potential loss or waste due to damage prior to usage.
Re-use of materials recovered from demolition was applied to a high degree at site 6. Being a refurbishment, the deconstruction technique was applied, in which materials were systematically taken apart in order to salvage as much re-usable material as possible. For example, around 90% of door frames, glass, walls and work stations were re-used for the fit-out.
While site 5 was also a refurbishment, there were a few materials that were appropriate for re-use, so the more conventional demolition was applied. Compared to the four-storey site 6, site 5 had 28 storeys and would have made deconstruction less cost-efficient. However, in a more recent refurbishment project in Canberra undertaken by the same owner of site 5, significant material were recovered because the building was new compared to the 30-year old site 5 building.
Based on the findings of the six project sites in this Study, the critical barriers to best practice in C&D waste recycling can be grouped into the following three categories:
Each of the projects found creative and innovative measures to overcome different aspects of these barriers. Increasing use of these measures across the industry and a program of continuous improvement based on better understanding of the technical processes and the economics of each stage of the recycling and disposal chains provide the basis of the actions recommended by this Study.
The recommendations cover actions that could be pursued by individual building developers and C&D companies, the industry as whole, governments, and jointly by industry and government. BICC could have an overarching responsibility for the program and seek agreement with relevant government agencies or industry associations to take carriage of specific initiatives.
4.1 Poor worker awareness - changing worker behaviour
Recommendation 1: Balance the ‘stick’ approach by rewarding workers and sub-contractors that achieve or exceed recycling targets, or exhibit creativity and innovation in waste minimization.
Recommendation 2: As part of site inductions, develop a short video presentation dramatizing best practice in waste minimization and recycling, and conveying the benefits of the overall project for the workers’ companies.
4.2 Diffusion of best practice: accelerating wider industry uptake
Recommendation 3: Industry and government should jointly develop an information program aimed at conveying the imperative benefits of C&D waste recycling. The program should build on the C&D aspect of the current Waste Wise program being delivered by Sustainability Victoria
Recommendation 4: Establish an incentive program that will provide financial support for construction projects to facilitate the development of on-site recycling strategies or to fund innovative recycling programs
Recommendation 5: Use case-studies from new projects to replenish and advance the information campaign on best practice.
4.3 Establish the economics of recycling
Recommendation 6: Conduct a cost-benefit analysis of recycling, building on a study which tracks the path of C&D waste leaving a project site, the transport and other costs involved.
Recommendation 7: The analysis in Recommendation 6 should also identify incentives and disincentives to waste minimization within the rebate system and recommend changes that will drive best practice.
Recommendation 8: A research and innovation program should be developed in collaboration with industry players to investigate key cost areas impeding waste minimization and recycling identified in the economic analysis proposed in Recommendation 6.
The financial assistance of the BICC in funding this study is acknowledged together with the assistance of the construction companies associated with each of the case study buildings and also Lindsay Bevege from the Business Outlook and Evaluation for his peer review.
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