The Harder We Try The Tougher It Gets

Welsh construction must strive to educate site workers if the wider industry across Wales is to meet tough waste management targets argues CEW Director Paul Jennings

3rd September 2014

Welsh construction must strive to educate site workers if the wider industry across Wales is to meet tough waste management targets argues CEW Director Paul Jennings

Construction is often judged by what happens on its building sites. It is an easy benchmark for everyone to use. Whether it is the skill of bricklaying or the handling of materials and management of waste, the on-site behaviour of our industry is there for everyone to see. It is a shame then that despite great work in many areas there is a missing link between site behaviour regarding construction waste and decisions made in the boardroom. It is a serious problem, because if Welsh construction is to hit its waste reduction targets the culture at site level must change – quickly.

Constructing Excellence in Wales has been managing the Construction Waste programme on behalf of Welsh Government since 2008 and achieved some notable successes, not least of which is the Green Compass, a quality scheme for waste management companies.

Our programme is focused on providing easy solutions for construction companies to help them manage their waste in the most effective and efficient way. In January 2014 we launched a project which we had developed to bring together most of the elements in our programme under one heading. Since June Enabling Zero Waste has been providing real support to four construction companies on four separate schemes – all in South Wales but all very different.

They all share an enthusiastic interest in environmental matters and in particular in working towards the zero waste targets for construction. The project is committed to looking at how we can work together with clients, design teams, senior management and of course the site teams. CEW provide practical support to the teams with an experienced waste consultant who visits sites on a regular basis to help identify solutions for waste arisings. This support is extended to the supply chain at each site and where appropriate on subcontractors.

Progress to date is positive but, and it is a big but, we are also finding that the journey towards the goal is still beset with familiar problems. Despite the head office enthusiasm for the project, communicating this to site teams and individuals remains an issue. The pressures under which site managers have to work often force the issue of waste to the bottom of the daily priority list. These pressures have impacted to varying degrees on our ability to make the most of our resources.

There is still a long way to go in overcoming this missing link between head office aspiration and on site achievement. But there are pockets of excellence that help make the connection. Willmott Dixon won the CEW Award for innovation this year because of their site focused waste reduction strategy.

Ceri Gullett of Willmott Dixon explains: “The industry has made huge strides towards ‘managing waste’, but despite the excellent progress in recycling and diversion from landfill, the ‘waste-less’ message is still an incredibly hard sell. Once you start talking about waste management that’s it, you are halfway to accepting you will have to deal with excess material in some shape or form. But where does that excess material come from and why?

“Our approach has to change from a divert-more to a create-less culture. But it’s not easy and we cannot do it without help. What the industry needs to do is improve ‘material management’, be honest about how much material needs  to be in the supply chain in the first instance,  not be fearful of challenging wasteful practices or designs at any point in the chain, and to take responsibility the choices they make. It’s an industry-wide problem that needs an industry-wide response.”

Improved communication, collaboration and integration of all of the team has to be the aim if the industry is going to make real progress.