Students challenged to find building waste solutions

May 14, 2015

Some of the environmental engineering students on a visit to the All Earth Group in Maddington (Pic: Master Builders WA)

Some of the environmental engineering students on a visit to the All Earth Group in Maddington (Pic: Master Builders WA)

Murdoch University environmental engineering students are tackling real life construction waste issues on building sites thanks to a partnership with Master Builders WA – the building and construction industry association.

The six third and fourth year students have visited three Right Homes sites in the Perth Metropolitan area to review their construction waste processes and have been tasked with designing new ones to ensure that less waste goes to landfill.

If successful their waste management designs could be utilised by the construction industry which has been encouraged to increase the recycling of their waste by the recent doubling of the landfill levy rate from $28 per tonne to $55 per tonne for putrissable 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.

“In the wake of the levy increase, we want to be able to go out to our members and educate them about the best waste practices available and this is where the students come in,” said Michael Norriss, a Waste Reduction Consultant from Master Builders WA.

“The students will be required to undertake research into how waste is currently disposed of on construction sites, identify what materials can be recycled and investigate the best practices in construction site recycling. We want them to recommend recycling practices that are the least time consuming, the cheapest and the most energy efficient. We want them to work with recycling companies to identify recycling opportunities for materials that might not be widely known about or utilised.

“Right Homes is a market leader for sustainable homes and they are keen to do the right thing in recycling, not just for business but for ethical reasons. We hope any changes made to their practices because of the students’ work will filter down to the rest of the industry.

“There is a real gap in knowledge among our members about what can be done with their waste and we hope the students will help them to fill this.”

Professor Bogdan Dlugogorski, Dean of the School of Engineering and Information Technology said the project aligned well with the School’s aims and objectives.

“Our students need industry-focussed learning experiences to prepare themselves adequately for the workplace,” said Professor Dlugogorski.

“Moreover such industry partnerships can also be harnessed for higher level research objectives.  For example, the present investigation could, in future, be progressed to a PhD study of the entire building construction resources supply chain in WA, which is currently of great interest to the Waste Authority of WA as well as to the Master Builders Association.”

The students themselves are excited about the opportunities raised by working on the project.

Ryan Kelly, 22, said he was happy to be gaining industry-relevant experience in the area.

“I don’t know too much about waste processes so I’m looking forward to broadening my experiences,” he said. “Clearly this is an area that the industry needs to work on.”

Fellow student Damien Arnaud, 22, said he was pleased to be working on such a big issue for construction businesses.

“Landfills only have a finite amount of space and better management practices will have less impact on them, the environment and on builders,” he said.

“I worked on domestic waste management for a company in Indonesia for a summer job so I have some experience of the sort of challenges we’ll face on this project. This, however, is on a much larger scale!”

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 have provided the students with the appropriate training and protection gear so they can work on site.

The project will last for three months and the students will present their ideas to Right Homes and Master Builders WA in June.

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