Student research finds that recycling is a win-win for building site waste

July 28, 2015

Building site waste project, square, smallMurdoch University environmental engineering undergraduates have conducted a small scale research project into construction waste generated on building sites, finding that almost 14 per cent (almost 28 tonnes) of ordered materials are discarded from the average home site and that around 80 per cent of spare materials could be recovered for resuse or recycling.

Right Homes volunteered three of their building sites, with five homes under construction, to use conventional waste methods, where mixed piles of waste are trucked offsite, as a way to benchmark the savings that could be achieved if best-practice waste management was introduced.

The five, third and fourth year students visited the sites in the Perth Metropolitan area between March and June and recommended that builders should separate their rubbish on site if possible to ensure less waste goes to landfill and to encourage recycling.

Their findings also illustrated that there was often a lack of awareness within the industry about how waste products such as bricks, sand and concrete could be recycled as road base, and a lack of government support and information on standards for such recycling to take place. Contamination of recyclable products like timber commonly meant they would have to be taken to landfill and a lack of recycling facilities often meant plastic had to be discarded instead of recycled. They also highlighted the continuing issue of illegal dumping onto building sites.

The research project, which was conducted in partnership with Master Builders WA – the building and construction industry association – and with the support of the Waste Authority WA, formed a unit for the students and gave them essential experience in conducting academic research in an applied environment, as well as developing their practical skills in report writing and presentation.

The construction industry has been encouraged to increase the recycling of their waste by the recent doubling of the landfill levy rate from $29 per tonne to $55 per tonne for putrescible waste and from $12 up to $60 per cubic metre for construction and demolition waste. Further staged increases will see the levy increase to $70 per tonne in July 2019.

Michael Norriss, Smart Waste Consultant at Master Builders WA said the students’ findings would inform education materials produced for members.

“The levy increase makes it imperative for builders to join the shift towards minimising the amount of waste they take to landfill,” said Mr Norriss.

“The students have worked hard learning about waste disposal practices on the building sites, identifying the materials that can be recycled and investigating best practices. As a market leader for sustainable homes, Right Homes have cooperated fully with their investigation and are keen to follow through on the findings to see where improvements to their practices can be made.

“It must be noted that this was a small-scale study and there are important knowledge gaps that need to be addressed before industry-wide conclusions can be drawn. More research is definitely required.

“One of the students – Casey Felmingham – is also planning to continue research into construction waste for her honours thesis and we will be helping to guide the parameters of this research so that even more useful information can be produced.”

Ms Felmingham said the experience of researching the building sites and writing up their findings had been very interesting.

“It has been a useful and practical learning experience for all of us,” she said.

“From the report writing to the presentation to stakeholders in this project, including the Waste Authority, I’m sure we will take our experiences forward into our future careers.”

Ms Felmingham’s fellow students were Jennifer Wroe, Yi Xin Yaw, Damien Kusumah Arnaud and Om Dolasia.

The students’ report is currently under review by Master Builders WA and Right Homes.

The partnership between Murdoch and Master Builders WA came about because of Environmental Engineering course leader Dr Martin Anda’s connections with the construction industry.

Master Builders WA provided the students with the appropriate training and protection gear so they could work on site.

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