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Viewpoint - Site waste management plans

Everyone, including designers, must take responsibility to make waste plans effective says Buro Happold waste management consultant, James Hobson

According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the UK construction industry produces around 120Mt of waste every year – over three times the total amount of domestic waste. The industry has played a significant role in increasing the UK’s total waste generation for the past decade.

However, until now legislation has been slow and underwhelming in tackling this issue. Change is now on the cards and legislation requiring clients to prepare Site Waste Management Plans (SWMPs) on all construction projects in England valued over £300,000 comes into force on 6 April. The plans are aimed at increasing the ‘recovery’ of construction waste, reducing the volume of waste disposed of and cutting down ‘waste crime’ – fly-tipping and illegal disposal. By enforcing the creation of project-wide waste management frameworks it is hoped that the new legislation, coupled with recent increases in landfill tax, will make a major impact in cutting construction waste.

Historically, a type of SWMP has been used voluntarily by some larger contractors to cut waste disposal costs. Some major clients and local authorities have also requested plans to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable development. In some regions plans have also sometimes been a planning condition. The current focus is on reducing waste during construction itself and unfortunately there is a widespread misconception amongst development teams, including architects and engineers, that the creation of new mandatory SWMPs will be the responsibility of contractors.

In reality the plans should be addressed initially at the planning and project conception stages. Worryingly, this lack of awareness of SWMPs threatens to hinder one of the fundamental objectives of the new legislation – to ‘design out waste’. If SWMPs are to make a real impact we must play our part as designers and consider the consequences of planning and design decisions on waste generation. Waste management should not be an optional extra in the design process – it must be central to the planning, design and construction process of future developments. The potential benefits of SWMPs, in terms of increased waste recovery, reduced waste crime, good environmental performance and cost savings, are immense.

WRAP is working to increase awareness of SWMPs and it recently created a ‘template’ to help with the development and implementation of effective plans, aimed at helping development teams to comply with legislation and also deliver good waste management practice. Only over the course of time will we understand how teams should work together to create and deliver effective and holistic SWMPs that have long-term benefits. We should now be seizing the opportunity to shape mandatory SWMPs in partnership with clients and other development professionals.

■ James Hobson is a waste management consultant in Buro Happold’s Environment Group

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