Building material waste: Proof that one project’s trash can be another project’s treasure

Building Material Waste Proof That One Projects Trash Can Be Another Projects Treasure

A call to arms from WG Architects’ James Bate

The 2018 PACE Survey community successfully raised $16,135 to support One Voice’s Elevate project, but it was the generosity of James Bate of WG Architects (Incorporating Bate Design) that blew us away, with the donation of $10,000 worth of brand new hardwood windows.

Speaking to James to understand how this donation came about, I got an insight into the incredible waste that is generated by construction projects. To give some perspective on the size of the issue, the most recent Australian National Waste Report (2016) showed that waste from the Construction and Demolition reached 19.6 mega tonnes in a single year – that’s 831kg of waste per person living in Australia.

I wanted to understand how this was possible. James was kind enough to share his understanding of the incredible amount of waste produced by the construction industry.

MS: Why would valuable building materials go to waste?

JB: Well they are valuable in the sense that they are well made, good quality products. Though, in the event that they are no longer fit for purpose (they are specified or fabricated incorrectly and do not fit the building) they are deemed worthless to the project.

MS: Are the windows that you donated an example of this?

JB: The windows were designed to be adjustable louvre windows, but were manufactured as fixed louvre windows. The product is perfectly operational, just not the product that was requested by the client. They were lovely pieces of hardwood framed windows, but of no use to the builder as repurposing them would have been more expensive than replacing them.

When I heard about what One Voice were doing with regards to the Elevate community project, I saw an opportunity to repurpose what would otherwise be wasted building materials.

MS: What are some other, common examples of commonly wasted building materials?

JB: Offcuts of plasterboard, framing, concrete formwork (plywood) insulation, tiles, air conditioning systems, hardware, even doors. Items that are ordered as surplus by intention, or mistake.

MS: How much waste would you find on a building site?

JB: A refurbishment job would attract a lot of waste from demolition. A hospitality refurb may see the replacement of a 5-year-old carpet, joinery fittings, lighting and furniture that is still in perfect working condition, but is no longer in current vogue and says that this venue is 2014, not 2019.

With new build projects, for example a new luxury home, you find that clients are very particular about the types of materials used but not accepting of the imperfections that sometimes come with those materials. Once they see the end product they change their mind and have it replaced. Building materials with decades of life left in them are often discarded.

MS: Is there not a way to repurpose these building materials?

JB: The challenges we face are time and cost of labour. Construction projects are time sensitive

and works programs often favour replacement over fixing defects or repurposing. This is compounded by the high cost of labour in Australia often making it cheaper to purchase a new product rather than fix it.

MS: What are other countries doing to manage construction waste?

JB: In lesser developed countries, where the cost of labour is cheaper, materials would be taken from site, sorted through, materials scavenged, and products repurposed.

The Scandinavians have a central incinerator that incinerates the waste and turns it into energy and pump hot water under roads to people’s houses, saving the need to have your own residential hot water pump, while simultaneously melting the snow off the roads. Additionally, they have developed reverse garbage centres where re-useable items are sorted and stored for the public to access to repurpose.

MS: What can we do to solve the problem?

JB: My vision is for a parallel waste collection for building sites where there might be a recycling skip along side the conventional waste for landfill. It would be interesting to see if there was a commercial opportunity for the removal of potentially useful items to be sorted for resale, donation and possibly for incineration for energy generation.

There is opportunity to be smarter with our waste both to harness its latent value and to reduce environmental impacts.

MS: What advice would you give to companies looking to reduce building material waste?

JB: At the time of delivering a project we should abide by the old adage of measure twice and cut once approach to make sure what is ordered and used is correct and appropriate for its intended location. Time spent on properly specifying, documenting and then checking the contractors understanding of the documents is important.

We need to create value in waste so businesses will develop to recycle and reuse waste.

At the moment, I see first steps as call to arms for players in the industry to develop a vision for alternatives for waste and let that develop momentum towards better outcomes.

Our donation to One Voice’s Elevate project has opened my imagination up to possibilities and given me an impetus to get on and do something about it.

MS: Thanks for your time, James. I hope your comments inspire others in our industry to take action on minimising building material waste.