Mandatory waste plans on the cards for construction sites

Site waste management plans could be made mandatory for large construction projects if an Environment Department (DEFRA) consultation due by the end of the year secures industry support. Large firms stress that any new requirements must extend to smaller firms if fly-tipping is to be minimised - and therefore the system needs to be simple and enforceable.

Last year, the Government urged contractors to adopt its new waste management code of practice and produce site waste management plans for projects valued above £200,000. Issued by the Department of Trade and Industry and partly promoted by one of its bodies, Constructing Excellence, the code was presented as a tool to help contractors cut costs, as well as a means to reduce waste going to landfill (ENDS Report 354, p 21 ).

However, the code was originally recommended by the Cabinet Office as a way to reduce fly-tipping and a new power allowing the Secretary of State to issue regulations requiring developers and contractors to prepare such plans for projects over a certain value was included in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005.

Some construction firms already segregate waste for recycling at many of their sites. Simons Construction's latest environmental report, for example, says that the company is extending its segregation programme to the majority of its larger sites. The company will have "active waste segregation identified during assessment/monitoring to some extent on 50% of our sites (by turnover) in any financial year, with all of the remaining sites using waste handlers with off-site waste segregation facilities".

However, less than a year after the code was issued, DEFRA has confirmed that it intends to issue draft regulations on site waste plans by the end of the year, with the aim of bringing them into force the following summer.

No data has been collected on the number of contractors that have signed up to the code. Constructing Excellence was planning to carry out a survey of contractors this summer which would also find out whether plans resulted in material savings and how much time they took to complete.

It is unclear which body DEFRA will suggest should be responsible for enforcing the requirement to produce plans. One option would be to include a requirement to produce waste plans in the building regulations and place enforcement in the hands of local authority buildings control officers.

According to Constructing Excellence's sustainability director, Sue Innis, most of the companies attending its workshops on the plans over the last 12 months expressed support for the idea of making them mandatory. Some large companies have told ENDS that they supported mandatory plans because they would "raise the bar" across the sector - while not requiring them to do anything that they are not already doing.

The Construction Clients Group said site waste management plans offer benefits to clients because their focus on logistics helps deliver projects more quickly. Mandatory plans would be an example of "better regulation", said executive director Christopher Morley, because site waste plans are something that "has been designed by industry and proven to work".

Nigel Mattravers, chairman of the Institution of Civil Engineers' waste management board, welcomed the prospect that mandatory plans could help clamp down on fly-tipping. "We've been supportive of measures that create a level playing field and prevent good companies being undercut by those with lower standards."

Mr Mattravers also welcomed the fact that DEFRA is leading the consultation. "The waste strategy is too narrowly focused on municipal waste and should do more to encourage C&D waste recycling and the development of higher-value markets for such materials."

To encourage recycling, a new colour-coding system for skips holding different C&D waste materials was recently launched by the ICE in collaboration with the Construction Confederation and the Scottish Waste Awareness Group. Seven symbols have been designed, each with its own colour and one word explanation, for gypsum, hazardous waste, inert waste, metal, wood, packaging and mixed waste.

Other observers, while agreeing that site waste management plans help reduce costs and conserve landfill void space, are not convinced that making them mandatory would make a difference.

The key issues are the level at which to set the threshold for projects, and whether such a regime would be enforceable.

"The challenges are huge in dealing with construction and demolition waste," said Matthew Lawman, chairman of the Construction Confederation's environmental forum. "Some 60-70% of construction firms are nowhere near £200,000 in annual turnover, let alone a project. If the threshold was reduced, it would bring in greater control but the Government would have to make it very easy for contractors to understand what they need to do."

Moreover, warned Mr Lawman, many contractors might produce site waste management plans but not reduce the amount of waste sent for disposal. "The plans would put a focus on materials control but would they change behaviour?"

One member of the Forum, whose 35 members account for 50% of the UK construction market, said most members were already using site waste plans. Setting a £200,000 threshold would increase this to 75% of the market, but the requirement would be very difficult to enforce.

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