Lyons O'Neill

Reducing, reusing and recycling materials on site

It’s no secret that as an industry, we have a long way to go when it comes to tackling waste. Contributing around 50,000 tonnes of plastic waste each year, the construction sector is the UK’s second largest producer of plastic waste, and comes only second to the packaging industry. Whilst these statistics are alarming, we know from our work with a wide range of clients, contractors and construction workers that there remains a steadfast commitment to championing greener building practices on site, and to share knowledge on the ways this can tangibly be achieved.

Likewise, as signatories of the UK Structural Engineers Declare – a declaration to reflect a 13-point environmental pledge in our work and advocacy – we join 170 other firms and organisations in advocating for faster change in our industry, and committing to sharing knowledge and research on an open source basis.

One such example of the methods being used to tackle on site waste involves recovering the waste that has been produced for reuse elsewhere. According to the Department of Food Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), significant strides have been made in driving this effort forward, with recovery rates for non-hazardous construction and demolition waste standing at 89.9% in 2014. These figures placed the UK ahead of the EU target of 70% by 2020.

Whilst latest figures are yet to be seen, it could certainly be said that efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle have moved beyond the classroom and now gathered pace on UK construction sites.

At Lyons O’Neill, we proudly employ these techniques on our projects wherever possible. For example, our work to transform a former pub into Phoenix Community Housing’s new HQ saw us take advantage of various elements of the existing structure for reuse elsewhere on site. On this particular project, we made use of the existing basement areas to store large attenuation tanks, and crushed down structural demolition waste for its reuse in the ground improvement process. By doing so, we avoided a significant amount of waste – which would otherwise have ended up in landfill – and created structural features that were functional and complimentary to the building’s overall design.

In addition, whilst much of the discussion regarding on site waste has concerned demolition waste, we often advise our clients on managing excess and waste water. At Harris Academy Purley, we worked to design a sustainable drainage system (SuDS) which discharged and channelled excess water from the building site to the water table; both addressing the safety and environmental challenges which could arise as a result of excess water on the school’s site. Our design also proved instrumental in helping us achieve an ‘Excellent’ BREEAM (Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method) rating.

There are a number of ways techniques like SuDS can go beyond simply managing excess or wastewater, to actively encouraging the circularity of building materials and resources. This could involve channelling water flow to the wider environment to boost biodiversity, or reusing wastewater in water features and sprinkler systems. Whatever our clients opt for, we always make sure to communicate the environmental benefits of each option they have.

Overall, there are a number of ways our sector is working to address the levels of waste produced on building sites, and as part of this process, have uncovered a range of techniques designed to support clients in making the most environmentally sustainable choices. If you would like to learn more about the ways we can help you reach your building sustainability goals, please do not hesitate to get in touch.