Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Wasting away

Cover story - State of the Nation

The State of the Nation, the ICE’s annual critique of UK infrastructure, is back. This year waste comes under the spotlight.

Last year’s State of the Nation report hit the government right in the middle of the energy debate and directly led to the ICE giving evidence to the Department of Trade & Industry select committee on the state of the UK’s energy infrastructure (NCE 11 December 2003).

This year there is not only a national report but State of the Nation assessments for Northern Ireland, the Midlands, Scotland, Wales and Yorkshire.

Every one of these reports focuses on an issue that goes right to the heart of the construction industry - waste.

‘Waste is in danger of becoming a ticking time bomb, ’ says the report.

Last year the UK produced 430Mt of waste, of which about 27Mt will go to landfill.

This figure is expected to rise annually by up to 5%.

But the European Landfill Directive, which takes effect this July, specifies that the volume of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill must be reduced to 75% of 1995 levels by 2010 - equating to a reduction of 13Mt.

The ICE is concerned that there are stringent targets for reducing municipal rubbish but none for other sectors, which ultimately produce most of the UK’s waste. ‘More attention must be paid to commercial and industrial waste, ’ said ICE waste board vice chairman Nigel Mattravers.

State of the Nation reports that up to 2,300 new waste facilities are needed over the next 16 years at the staggering cost of 30bn, and complains that the government has been slow to encourage these new facilities to be built.

Private sector investment is not forthcoming because there is too much uncertainty in planning. ‘Rules for gaining planning permission have become so stringent that developers are being put off entering the waste market and are going into roads or railways instead, ’ said Mattravers.

The report says that it takes at least five years to bring a waste facility online because of planning issues and public objections. However the ICE maintains that these sites are not dangerous and this needs to be communicated to the general public to arrest the growing nimbyism that haunts the planning process.

The construction industry produces 24% or 103.2Mt of the UK’s waste every year, and half of this is reused as fill or crushed aggregates.

The rest goes to landfill.

Although there are no targets for reducing inert waste, the reclassification of hazardous waste sites (which will ban co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste from July) has seen the number of sites plummet from 279 in 2001 to only five from next month (News this week).

This will directly affect brownfield sites and contractors who traditionally employed a ‘dig and dump’ approach to brownfield redevelopment will have to start treating and rehabilitating the ground at a much higher price. This could jeopardise government plans for brownfield land redevelopment in the south east, especially as there will be no hazardous waste sites in the south after July.

There are some initiatives in place to guide the construction industry. A demolition protocol model to encourage developers to reuse demolition waste is being produced jointly by the ICE and Chartered Institution of Waste & Environmental Management (CIWEM). The ICE is negotiating with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to get aspects of the protocol included in planning guidance.

Throughout the entire State of the Nation a constant message emerges. The government has got to start making difficult decisions and provide clear direction. For the sake of the nation, unpopular decisions have got to be made and these have to be translated fully, not watered down regionally and locally.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.