As anyone working onsite will tell you, much of the stuff that ends up in skips – and, ultimately, landfill – is not what your average householder would consider to be waste, but perfectly serviceable construction materials. Pallets of bricks, blocks, insulation panels and plasterboard; plywood shuttering; pipes and ducts; even rebar, geotextiles and waterproofing membranes.
They are the "bin ends" that were ordered but not used that the supplier won't take back; the 10% extra put in the bill "just to be on the safe side"; or the material that could be used again, but no-one wants to store it until the next job or move it to another site.
Whatever the reason – or excuse – the fact remains that brand new and hardly used construction materials are going straight to landfill, causing an environmental headache, and costing contractors money. One study has revealed that the true cost of filling an average 8m3 skip is £1,343, of which the value of materials in the skip is more than £1,000. This does not include, landfill tax, which is set to increase to £32 a tonne next year, making the total cost of dumping construction waste a real threat to the bottom line for many contractors.Now, one entrepreneurial young engineer thinks he has a solution that could drastically cut the amount of material going straight from site to landfill: an online trading site. Will Goode, managing director of ConstructionResale, describes his solution as similar to the popular auction site eBay. A contractor with materials to sell puts details of what’s available on the website and either invites offers for it or sets a fixed price. Contractors looking for materials can check what’s available in their area and make a bid or accept the price on offer.
"Normally," says Goode, "contractors wouldn’t trade directly with their competitors, but the site is anonymous so they don’t know who they’re dealing with until they’ve agreed the sale."
He says one big benefit of the site is that smaller contractors will be able to get the benefit of large contractors' bulk-purchasing clout by picking up spare materials cheaper than buying from suppliers. They may also be able to buy in smaller quantities than merchants and suppliers offer, and could source specialist items that are often hard to come by or on long lead times. A big player's waste may well be a small contractor’s entire materials requirement.
Goode got the idea for ConstructionResale after working for a major contractor. "I noticed the problems caused by waste on construction sites I worked on," he says, "but it's an industry-wide problem. Numerous contractors have said that one of the key barriers to improving their waste reduction is that there is no market for these materials."
He set about creating an easy solution for trading spare materials, and felt the internet offered the simplest option. Contractors can either set up an account with ConstructionResale centrally or on a site-by-site basis, with the company handling the payments side. Occasional visitors (or cash buyers) can opt for the same payment mechanism that eBay uses if they don’t want to set up an account.
ConstructionResale makes money by taking a small percentage (up to 3%) of the sale value.
"At the moment, there is a thriving market in architectural salvage and second-hand mechanical plant," says Goode. "We want to kick-start the thought process within contractors that what is scrap to one company has a value to someone else. Materials tend to be costed into one project, so they don't get taken to the next site. But what’s left from a large project could be enough for a small contractor."
One reason why materials are just dumped at the end of a project is that the contractor doesn’t want to truck them halfway across the country to the next site. Goode’s scheme seems to offer a solution, by enabling contractors to offload what they don’t need in one area and pick up similar items elsewhere that another contractor has finished with.
He thinks the site could also make in-roads into the hire market, especially for temporary works items. "A lot of the time construction companies hire temporary works products and have big charges at the end because the hire company claims items have been damaged or lost," he says. "The contractor would be better off buying second hand, and then selling on anything that’s left at the end."
Goode has joined forces with his father, Richard, a software expert, to develop www.constructionresale.co.uk. They spent more than a year looking at IT options, and six months testing the site, which goes live this autumn, with an official launch at Civils 2007 in November.
He believes the launch is coming at the right time for the construction industry, when contractors claim to be keen to tackle the problem of waste but are short of answers as to what to do about it. From next year, all projects valued at more than £250,000 will have to have a site waste management plan detailing how much waste will be generated, how much will be recycled and how the rest will be disposed of.
If the industry is serious about getting tough on waste, this new business may be one solution.
See Construction Resale at Civils 2007.
- Construction and demolition waste represents 19% the UK's waste (Environment Agency)
- The Department for Business, Environment & Regulatory Reform target for construction waste landfill is zero (by 2020)
- Around 13% of all the solid materials delivered to construction sites goes unused, and up to one third ends up in landfill, according to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
- One-third of all fly tipping includes waste from construction, demolition and excavation (Defra)
- The UK construction industry produces 109M tonnes of waste every year (DEFRA)
- 4.5% of a construction company's profit is spent on waste removal (CIRIA)
- Construction and demolition is the single largest UK waste stream (Construction Resources and Waste Platform)
- Waste accounts for up to 5% of construction project value (Construction Resources and Waste)
- The construction industry pays an estimated Ł200M a year in landfill tax (Construction Resources and Waste Platform)
Innovation is a major theme at Civils 2007, with the best new products and services launched in the past year in contention for the NCE Innovation Award. Shortlisted entries will be displayed on giant plasma screens throughout the exhibition hall, and the winner will receive a trophy in a ceremony at the central show pavilion. All exhibitors at this year’s event are eligible to enter the Innovation Award.
More at www.civils.com