Building sites across the country grapple with the problem of plastic waste.
Plastic waste from the UK’s construction industry has increased 45.72% over just two years, according to analysis of recently published government data by the construction site storage experts at SiteStak. The data from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)¹ is recently published and is the latest statistical release on UK waste.
The new statistics follow Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent comments on plastics and recycling in the run up to COP 26. Johnson commented that recycling plastics ‘doesn’t work’ and that industries need to ‘cut down our use of plastics’ to solve the problem. The research also comes amid renewed concerns of the environmental impact of waste from building sites, with most plastics not being biodegradable and more than 8 million tonnes² of it still being dumped in the oceans each year.
It also follows a recent Environment Agency warning to construction businesses that they must deal with plastic waste properly after a ‘marked increase’ in attempts to illegally export contaminated and potentially harmful plastics from building sites.
Despite the rise in plastic waste from UK construction sites, the new data also shows that plastic waste from the UK as a whole actually decreased 2.68% in the same two-year period to 2018. Even more concerning, plastic waste from UK construction companies increased 69.84% in four years to 98,284 tonnes in 2018. Total wastage of all materials from the construction industry also increased 2.23% in the same four year period.
Although growth has recently waned due to supply chain issues, UK construction output has often been strong in recent years, driving demand for materials including plastics.
Construction output hit a two decade high at the beginning of this summer⁴, with the new DEFRA statistics also highlighting that plastic waste remains a big problem for the UK as a whole. Although the proportion of the country’s plastic waste that was recycled or recovered increased 1.2% year-on-year in 2020, the overall output of the UK’s plastic waste that was not recycled still increased nearly 5% in the four years to 2020.
Peter James, Managing Director of SiteStak commented on the new findings: ‘Our analysis of DEFRA data raises concerns about how the building industry is handling materials, with large quantities of non-biodegradable plastic waste sadly still ending up in landfill. Construction is heavily dependent on plastic, with packaging, unused materials, offcuts and improper storage and handling of plastic often being the biggest culprits.’
‘When supplies aren’t properly organised on a construction site, plastics often get mislaid or used incorrectly, which is often a significant driver of excess waste. Our SiteStak materials management system has been specifically designed to help combat this issue and change how groundworkers operate, by better facilitating stock control, organisation and the movement of underground drainage and building supplies.’
Case Study: Health & Safety Director Richard Theaker, who has spent the last 30 years working for clients in house building and construction, draws upon his experience to address key questions on the problem of plastic waste in construction.
Has plastic waste been a problem for you and your clients in the construction industry?
This is a significant issue for many construction companies, with building sites often generating large quantities of excess plastic, all of which needs to be disposed of properly. One of the biggest practical challenges for these companies is what to do with excess plastic and how to avoid the mistakes which contribute towards wastage. Finding cost effective ways to dispose of plastic and the financial burden of replacing materials whilst working is also a significant challenge for many construction companies.
Some groundworks companies estimate that 10% or more of plastic materials go to waste on building sites. What do you think are the main causes of this?
Damage and loss of materials is one of the leading causes of plastic waste on construction sites. Much of this waste comes from offcuts, however mistakes made during construction work and workers losing materials also plays a big role. Construction sites are busy places with lots of materials and activities taking place, which in many cases inevitably leads to materials such as plastics getting mislaid or lost. Theft of materials from building sites also plays a role.
What, in your experience, is the most surprising way you have seen materials being wasted on construction sites?
Ordering the right quantity of materials and accurately predicting how much of that material will end up being wasted is a difficult thing to predict. One of the most shocking things I have heard about is large quantities of over ordered building materials being buried and excess plastics being tracked into the ground at the end of a build instead of recycled. Sometimes workers also make significant mistakes, which leads to lots of materials such as plastic going to waste.
In your experience, how has SiteStak and improved management of materials on construction sites helped to tackle the problem of plastic of waste?
Large building projects can be chaotic and naturally require lots of materials, much of which often gets lost, misused, or damaged by machinery if left lying about. Disorganisation and poor stock management is also a cause of over ordering and the misuse of materials, so putting in place systems to organise, store and manage these materials is vital to reducing excess waste.
I have helped facilitate the use of the SiteStak system on many construction projects as it is one of the best solutions for managing materials and stock levels. The system is also easily moved across construction sites, leading to improvements in traffic management due to materials being transported more effectively. It also organises and secures items in one place, which helps to reduce the number of materials lost to theft. When purchased with a saw guide and clamp, and used in conjunction with a pipe chamfer tool, the SiteStak system also improves the safety of operations greatly.