We need housing, yes, but built in the right way

Resource Efficient House at the BRE Innovation Park, Ravenscraig. Picture: Sandy Young

By Caroline Gray

There is no denying that we are in real need for housing in Scotland. We know that the Scottish Government has committed to build 50,000 affordable homes by 2020/21, and that our existing housing stock requires a sustained focus on retrofit to ensure progress towards our national carbon reduction targets. However, we also know that the construction sector in Scotland produced over four million tonnes of waste in 2014; 44% of the country’s total, making it the single largest waste producer in Scotland.

What’s more, the range of composite materials and complex products being installed in buildings now means that it is becoming increasingly difficult to reuse, recycle or repair elements at end of life. By changing our construction practices now, to fully consider the end of life impact of the products we choose, we stand a better chance to increase recycling rates in the future.

This waste can be avoided

An average three-bedroomed house can produce up to 13 tonnes of construction waste. If demolition and excavation waste is included, this can rise to 20 tonnes. At around £250 to £500 per unit produced this could easily add up to a £4-8m cost to the housing sector, based on the 16,111 completions in Scotland in 2015. That’s a lot of money to be thrown away, not to mention the lost reuse value of over-ordered materials. With many people finding it increasingly difficult to afford a property of their own, any potential savings are a good reason to take this on board.

The Resource Efficient House was delivered by Resource Efficient Scotland, a programme of Zero Waste Scotland. The build produced less than five tonnes of construction waste, and less than one tonne went to landfill making it a good example of waste saving potential. If replicated, this could go some way to reducing Scotland’s construction waste to landfill, whilst reaping financial gains for house builders through efficient ordering to avoid waste in the first place, or through sale of leftover materials for extra revenue.

It is wrong to think that the journey ends once the house is built. For those who have a responsibility for the repair and maintenance, such as a housing association, then the business case for considering waste goes beyond handing over the keys. For housing associations, it is clearly in their interest to make sure that the building is easy and cost-effective to maintain, materials used are durable and robust, and are reusable and recoverable when they reach the end of their life. This ingrained approach to energy and resource efficiency, as well as the focus on prolonging the life of materials and products, can help deliver housing which is not only sustainable to build but also sustainable to run; a win-win situation for both buyers and tenants.

We must rethink waste in housing to focus on prevention, reuse and make the procurement of recycled materials the norm. Our ‘Designing Out Construction Waste Guide’ provides practical solutions for each stage of the process. To help even further we can offer free ‘designing out waste’ workshops and onsite opportunity assessments for SMEs, which can help dramatically reduce construction costs and consider how to include deconstruction and adaptability into designs and product choices. But it’s not just the financial rewards; by builders being more efficient and encouraging the supply chain to do the same, we can all have a real impact on the communities in which we operate.

Delivering community benefits

Within public sector contracts there’s an inbuilt requirement to deliver community benefit, but this hasn’t yet filtered through in force to the market-led housing sector in the same way. This is a missed opportunity because adding those benefits can not only help to support planning permissions, it can also have a positive impact on the workforce, on customers and on the communities in which companies are building. Training staff, and those within the supply chain for larger construction firms, will in time embed these skills throughout the industry. The Resource Efficient Scotland support and advice service is something that can help companies achieve this.

Using social enterprises and supported businesses to divert resources is also becoming a trusted way to have a positive impact and avoid waste disposal costs. For example, Community RePaint is a network of schemes that collects leftover paint from the trade for a low-cost. This paint is then sold on to individuals and community projects or social housing at minimal cost to them. Finding local suppliers and social enterprises to support building can also deliver crucial support to them in getting a new product or service to market. By seeking them out to give them business, companies can in turn support local entrepreneurs and help the local economy.

There are numerous opportunities to explore reused, reclaimed and recycled products for all parts of the construction process right the way up to the fit-out stage. The reuse consortium created by Community Resources Network Scotland (CRNS) is a good example of how this is being delivered in scale. The consortium comprises 17 accredited furniture reuse members who support 24 local authority areas in providing34 key household items, including essentials such as beds, sofas, tables and chairs, cookers, fridges and washing machines. Glasgow Wood Recycling, a CRNS member, also collects timber from construction sites and remanufactures it into new products. The CRNS members have at their core a determination to reduce waste and to create real social, environmental and economic benefits at community level. These sorts of approaches are transformational; they change the mindset of needing new. If we can change the mindset on things like paint and furniture, which are visible, we can certainly change the mindset on concrete and fit-out.

What to expect in the future

One trend is the switch to offsite manufacturing, where a significant amount of the build takes place in a factory and is then transferred to site. This strategy was used in the build of the Resource Efficient House, and was a major contributor in achieving the 70% waste savings. Not only does this help reduce onsite waste, but leftover materials can also be stored for future projects and materials are less prone to damage in a warehouse environment. This approach has a lot of social benefits too. Too often, tradespeople working on site are travelling from region to region, far from home. Creating a hub of skilled workers in a specific location will help to build stronger working relationships between those workers, increasing trust and respect across the supply chain, and delivering an enhanced sense of wellbeing for all those involved. Importantly, the savings made from reducing travel, waste and procurement can also be passed on in terms of better pay and conditions.

Ultimately, it’s by engaging and empowering the workforce throughout the entire supply chain that we will be able to improve building processes and tackle the problem of how materials and buildings can be made recyclable and recoverable at end of life. We must stop creating a problem for future generations and to do this we must invest in the skills and commitment needed to make Scotland truly zero waste.

Ready to make an impact?

Resource Efficient Scotland is a programme of Zero Waste Scotland. It provides fully funded Government support for all construction SMEs. Its Advice and Support team can help you become more efficient by reducing waste and resources. Support is available for projects at all phases of the construction process, and includes:

Onsite opportunity assessments: reuse and waste prevention site walkovers, supply chain partnerships, designing out waste workshops.

Detailed opportunity assessments: in depth business case and implementation support, and problem material analysis.

Capital grant funding and loans: for those who have been through the opportunity assessment process.

Training: employee training (e.g. opportunity assessment shadowing), technical workshops, and web tools.

We can help you improve your processes, sell more, save money and have a positive impact on the community. Find out more by contacting the team on 0808 808 2268 or find out more about available support and upcoming events at Resource Efficient Scotland.

Caroline Gray is sector manager for construction at Zero Waste Scotland.