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The growing burden of construction waste

What can business owners and sole traders do to reduce construction waste?

This month, Tradesman Saver are taking a look at waste in the construction industry. Read on to find out what materials pile up, and steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint.

Common waste

With 400 million tonnes of products and materials consumed each year in the construction industry, the waste produced is huge. And there are certain types of waste that are more common than others.

Here’s a list:

  • Concrete, bricks, tiles, cement, and ceramics.
  • Wood, glass, and plastic.
  • Insulation and asbestos materials.
  • Bituminous mixtures, coal tar, and tar.
  • Metallic waste (such as pipes).
  • Soil, stones, and dredging.
  • Paints and varnishes.
  • Adhesives and sealants.

It’s clear that most of these materials are harmful to the environment, and in some cases hazardous, if disposed of incorrectly.

The good news is 75% of construction waste is recycled, however doing a good deed is never as simple as it should be.

When construction materials are recycled it means changing the material in some way to produce another product.

This process involves a number of steps, and uses a lot of energy to recycle the product. Add this to the journeys needed to move these materials around, and the process can often be environmentally damaging.

So what are the alternatives?

Landfill is one option, and this is where a quarter of construction waste ends up each year. This isn’t ideal, as all those chemicals and hazards lead to a dangerous mix in a limited space. And it’s space that’s becoming a hot topic.

Reports a few years back suggested that landfills in the UK are on course to reach capacity by 2022, which means they should be avoided.

So landfills are a big no, and recycling isn’t as environmentally friendly as it should be.
But all is not lost. Fortunately, there are other steps tradespeople can make to reduce their waste.

Clean as you go

A clean workspace is a healthy workspace, and the same applies to work sites. Getting rid of your waste shouldn’t be something you consider once a contracts complete. It should become part of the process. Organising waste materials during construction will save time when you’re packing up the site.

Here are some tips on how to manage your waste when you’re working on projects:

  • Flammable materials  – make sure that all flammable waste materials (such as packaging and timber offcuts) are cleared away regularly to reduce fire risks.
  • Work areas – make clearing waste a priority for all trades. Check that everyone is aware of what needs to be done.
  • Skips – waste materials need storing safely before their removal from the site so make sure that you allow sufficient space for waste skips and bins etc. Plan where the skips can be positioned and how often they will need to be collected.
  • Waste within buildings – consider waste generated inside the building and whether you need to provide wheeled bins or chutes etc. to enable it to be brought out of the building safely.

This check list is even more important for sole-traders who rely on themselves to keep on top of the risks. If you find you’re working with materials that produce a lot of waste, make sure you have the correct insurance cover in place. It’s imperative you take action to reduce risks before disaster strikes.

Share what you can’t reuse

Enviromate is a listing site for tradespeople to share unused building materials and supplies they no longer need. It’s similar to Craigslist, or Gumtree, and is specific to different trades.

Once you sign-up you can list the materials you’re trying to get rid of, add an image, and set a price. Users can search based on trade type, or location, and there are opportunities to find free products.

Current listings include, free IKEA wall brackets, 2600 white bricks for £600, and used roof tiles for £50.

Listing sites are an excellent way to put some money back in your pocket and achieve that sense of pride you get from helping out. Especially when we consider how much is wasted.

And if you’re looking to save some money when you purchase materials for a job, you might find what you need at a lower price.

So, if you’ve got the space to safely store unused materials, hold on to them. They may be worth a bit of cash.


In 2003, a town in Japan become the first carbon neutral area in the country. To achieve this, architect Hiroshi Nakamura designed a recycling centre using non-traditional methods.

All of the materials used to construct the centre were sourced from upcycled materials. Products and materials that would have been dumped, never to be seen again.

Part of the build included:

  • 700 donated windows
  • Unprocessed timber
  • Flooring made of glass and ceramic
  • And bookshelves made of storage containers

To date, the village surrounding the centre reuses about 80% of it’s waste and hopes to become rubbish free in the near future.

You’ll find more information about the centre, as well as some pictures, here.

This example goes to show what is possible with the materials and products we don’t think twice about throwing out.

And if you’ve got some spare wooden pallets laying about, why not build yourself a cabin in the woods.

Click to watch how wooden pallets can be used to make a cabin in the woods. 

It’s tough to keep track of all the ways we can make a difference, as the regulations are often unclear. However, compared to other countries, the UK have made some impressive steps in the right direction.

In 2019, the UK recycled 43.5% of all the waste it produced, which was more than twice it’s target. This shows that a large majority of us are willing to make an effort to reduce our carbon footprint.

As always, we are keen to hear your thoughts and experience.

Do you work in a trade where material storage and waste management is highly regulated? Or, are you confused about how to get rid of construction waste? Comments welcome.

And if you found this blog interesting and know someone who would like to read it too, share it on social media. You’ll find links below.

Mark McPherson

Mark McPherson has an MA in Creative Writing and has been crafting content for over a decade. He writes for a range of niches, including the construction industry and insurance sector. Mark has worked internationally as a content writer and teacher.

All articles by Mark McPherson

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