How to Manage Construction Waste Sustainably Advice, Landfill Tips, Building Site Guide

How to Manage Construction Waste Sustainably: Best Practices

10 Nov 2020

The construction industry is a major contributor to the UK’s landfill waste problem. In 2010, the total construction and demolition (C&D) waste in the country reached an estimated 77.4 million tonnes or about one-third of all landfill waste. In England and Wales alone, the industry generates 53.5 million tonnes of C&D waste every year. 51% of that goes directly to landfill, 40% is used for land reclamation purposes, and a meagre 9% is recovered or crushed for future use.

C&D waste is toxic and contaminates the surrounding soil, water, and air, either through accidental spillage or direct contact. Therefore, it is imperative that businesses aim to implement strategies for the sustainable management of C&D waste at every level of the supply chain. Any effective waste management plan should incorporate the so-called “three R’s” — reduce, reuse, and recycle as part of an even broader “green” strategy.

The Three R’s


Above all, businesses should carefully plan procurement to minimize waste and excess materials and ensure the efficient use of resources.

A key component here is the packaging. Every effort should be made to reduce it, especially where it amounts to 50% or more of a delivery. Be sure to place a request with the supplier to use as little packaging as possible. What’s more, consider returning plastic shrink wrapping, collation trays, glazing racks, transport strapping, and other types of packaging.

As far as the materials themselves are concerned, do not order larger amounts than are realistically required for each stage of the project. If you find that you need more, you can always place a new order later. Using portable truck scales onsite is a great way to reduce waste. These allow you to quickly and accurately weigh the materials required for any project.

However, sometimes, you may end up over-ordering materials despite your best efforts. If that happens, return the excess materials to the supplier as soon as possible or use them on another project.

In addition, consider using mortar silos where possible. It’s also a good idea to set and crush excess concrete to use as road aggregate or in footpaths.

Eliminating as much waste as you can at the beginning of the project also reduces the overall amount of materials. As soon as a delivery arrives, check the goods and immediately. Return to the supplier any goods that have sustained damage in transit.


Reusing is more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient than recycling, which is why it should be your primary focus.

Reuse any excess materials that you cannot return to the supplier on the same or other building projects. Where possible, replace wood with modular metal form-systems in concrete construction. These are much easier to demount and reuse.

Where applicable, always opt for deconstruction rather than demolition, or at least use a combination of both. Deconstruction allows for a much more thorough recovery of useable materials.

If you cannot use any salvaged or excess materials on your projects, consider selling, exchanging, or donating them to local trades or charities. There is always demand on the market for raw materials, as well as second-hand components such as:

  • Bricks
  • Cabinetry
  • Wood flooring
  • Doors and windows
  • Architectural millwork
  • Mechanical equipment
  • Electrical and plumbing fixtures

It’s also a good idea to repair and reuse damaged goods instead of purchasing new ones. Unpainted timber and landscape materials can be shredded to create boiler fuel chips, mulch, or compost for use on or offsite.

You might also want to consider using reusable mechanical fasteners such as nails, bolts, and screws rather than adhesives. That is especially applicable to temporary constructions like handrails, security and safety doors, timber hoarding, etc.


Wherever possible, recycle any materials that you can neither reuse nor return to the supplier. That is especially important when it comes to metals and structural steel, which are nearly universally recycled.

To make the process easier and more efficient, as well as to optimize your recycling program, partner with a waste hauler or a specialist C&D recycling company.

Waste haulers typically carry out the waste sorting onsite and will provide you with different-sized receptacles for presorting. If sorting onsite, be sure to use the appropriate containers and place clearly labelled wheelie bins and skips in close proximity to the working areas. Crucially, make sure that you store and handle hazardous waste separately from non-hazardous waste, and as per the instructions of your waste hauler.

Unlike waste haulers, most C&D recycling services will sort your waste offsite. That makes the process a lot easier for you and your team, but it can be more expensive.

You may also consider partnering with nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity that reuse and recycle C&D waste in support of building projects in developing countries.

Other Tips for Sustainable Waste Management

In addition to implementing the three R’s in your own C&D works, consider requiring your suppliers to provide and adhere to their own waste management targets. That can be done contractually via the tender process. For instance, you may require suppliers to accept the return of packaging and excess materials, submit sustainability reports, and/or carry out staggered deliveries.

Where possible, consider offsite construction, which has been shown to reduce waste significantly.

How to Manage Construction Waste Sustainably Summary

Be sure to also look into LEED certification, the world’s most-recognized green building rating system. Both commercial and residential buildings, as well as all project types — from upgrades to new construction — are eligible to apply. A LEED certification is not only a testament to your project’s sustainability, but is also becoming more and more attractive to potential investors and buyers.

Last but not least, make sure to continually monitor, review, and improve the implementation of best practices and waste management on all your sites. Don’t forget to also train and educate your workers and staff members on the latest news and advances in green construction practices.

Comments on this guide to How to Manage Construction Waste Sustainably advice article are welcome.

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