In an ideal world there would be no waste, all materials would be recycled. Natural resources would never be exhausted and the built environment would live in harmony with its surroundings.
But the world is not ideal.
The construction industry is the biggest culprit, contributing 24% of the 430Mt of waste produced in the UK. Putting the new ICE Demolition Protocol into practice is one way of reducing this shockingly large environmental footprint.
The only problem is that very few people have heard of it yet.
Developed by the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Chartered Institute of Waste Management, the protocol maps out how materials can be recovered from demolition and specified in new building projects.
'Organisations are worried that it's just a tree hugging exercise, but it's not, ' emphasises Brian Menzies, regional manager for environmental consultant Envirocentre that prepared the protocol document. 'It's in line with the practicalities of life.
This is an engineering solution.'
The protocol requires a building audit to be carried out prior to demolition to identify the proportion of material that can be recovered. This tonnage is then used as the minimum quantity of recycled material which should be used in the new project.
The final mix of recyclable types specified in the bill of quantities then depends on market supply.
Envirocentre is helping north London's Brent Council implement the protocol on a £1bn development covering 17ha around Wembley Stadium.
Demolition of a bingo hall and other smaller buildings began last week to make way for a public square and parking facilities.
The protocol is part of the council's supplementary planning guidance document for sustainable design, construction and pollution control.
'It's difficult for councils to put in the resources to implement sustainability, so pointing to a standard document makes the job easier, ' says Brent Council head of projects and policy Keith Tallentire.
The experience has nevertheless been a steep learning curve for the council and developer Quintain, he says. There have been concerns over how 'clean' the recovered materials will be and how implementing the protocol might affect the construction programme.
Menzies tries to reassure.
'It's not about being unrealistically green, ' he says. 'During this process, you could discover that you can't get reusable material at a reasonable price.'
So far, Quintain's demolition audit has calculated that 80% of material from the buildings demolished in the first phase of development can be recycled.
It has identified 10,000t of material that can be recycled and up to 20,000t that can be specified in the new build.
Much of the masonry and concrete will be crushed on site for use as fill, but some will be specified in new concrete structures.
The use of recycled concrete aggregate (RCAs) and recycled aggregates (RAs) in concrete mixes has only become viable since December 2003 when the British standard for specifying concrete mixes (BS 5328) was superseded by BS 8500.
The new standard allows 100% of aggregate in nonstructural concrete to be from recycled sources but only 20% in reinforced concrete.
'Aggregate is the largest tonnage and easiest to manage, but over the next 15 years, we'll be looking to recover steel and wood as well, ' says Menzies.
Brent Council is pushing all developers on its patch to implement the protocol.
'We float it out to everyone, saying that you have to take this on or we might turn down the application, ' says Tallentire.
The Demolition Protocol can be found on the ICE's website.
www. ice. org. uk