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Reducing waste in the construction industry

Radhika Chaudhary, Co-Founder & CFO, Ricron Panels Pvt. Ltd

India is building and rebuilding itself at a frenetic pace, leaving behind mountains of construction and demolition waste that need to be considered waste at all. Radhika Chaudhary, Co-Founder & CFO, Ricron Panels Pvt. Ltd lists multiple measures that can introduce the concept of a circular economy to this vital, vibrant sector.

Building a new home generates tonnes of waste on a massive scale, which is a waste of resources, materials and energy.

Around 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to building materials and construction. The construction waste generated in India is 150 MT, according to the Building Material Promotion Council, and accounts for 35%–40% of the global construction and demolition (C&D) waste annually. But the country recycles just 1% of its C&D waste – a meagre 6,500 tonnes per day.

Cement – one of the major polluters in the C&D industry – is a key player in the Paris Agreement’s objective to reduce emissions and avert the worst effects of climate change by 2050. Covid-associated lockdowns caused emissions to fall by 14% to 123 MT CO2 in 2020. Notwithstanding these huge reductions, India was the second-largest polluter in the cement industry in that year.

By developing more sustainable construction materials, reinforced using natural fibres, and by adopting source reduction, recycling, and reusing existing resources, it is possible to divert building and demolition waste
from landfills. This helps in reducing emissions, resource depletion, and waste.

Measure & minimise

Not only from a financial point of view but also from an environmental point of view, one way to approach the problem of waste generation is through the principle of ‘lean engineering’ – a strong focus on minimising waste.

Measuring waste is a great place to start on the journey to reducing waste. Quantifying is the first step towards formulating ways for reducing it. It also helps in bringing along the stakeholders with you by showing them the results and creating momentum.

Designing out waste

The design phase is incredibly important to start thinking about waste reduction. Ask yourself three major questions while designing your construction project: How can you replace those materials? If a building needs to be refurbished, what would happen to those materials in their entirety? When the building has reached the end
of its economic life, what happens to the construction materials that went into it?

Planning & procurement

Proper planning can help reduce the waste generation in construction. By using 3D models and virtual reality, construction companies can plan their projects more accurately, which can help reduce the need for material waste.

Procurement is another way to reduce waste. Initiating conversations and early engagement with your contractors and suppliers in order to procure the right quantity required and reduce packaging is the way to go. For instance, using bio bags to get materials into a site where you can use them to reload multiple times and avoid single-use plastic is a possibility.

Also, increase the supplier’s responsibility by returning the excess materials.

Cutting the quantity of waste generated in construction involves not just reducing the amount that is currently disposed of in landfills, but also how much will be wasted in the future. The proper course of action is shifting to sustainable alternatives. Instead of using asphalt shingles made from petroleum, you can use solar panels or eco-friendly sheets.

Divert & Segregate

Globally, 25% of wood, 40% of raw stone, gravel and sand are estimated to be consumed by the construction sector annually.

Construction and demolition materials are debris from the construction, renovation, and demolition. Some examples include: Concrete, bricks, glass, rocks, wood, asphalt and metals.

Diverting it to the right streams of recycling and repurposing
will not only limit the amount of landfill use but also conserve finite forest resources.

Reuse

When you are renovating, refurbishing or removing buildings, you can creatively redistribute and reuse the remaining products of older buildings at a financial advantage.

For example, instead of throwing away wood scraps, they can be used as mulch or wood chips. Concrete can be crushed and reused as aggregate. Metals can be recycled.

Another way is donating construction materials to organisations that can reuse them.

Recycle

One of the most important ways you can cut waste is to convert it into useful products through recycling. Circular Economy seeks to eliminate any kind of underutilisation of resources. For instance, recycled plastics are tough, durable and sustainable building materials.

Currently, ~40% of plastic waste in India ends up being uncollected for recycling. Proper management of this waste can create ~14 lakhs jobs and could potentially represent a ~$2 billion opportunity.

In addition to tackling the dual problem of reducing the construction industry’s carbon footprint, it also aids in managing plastic waste.

Finally, construction companies should work closely with local authorities to ensure that the remaining construction waste is disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

Conclusion

Historically, sending waste to the landfill might have been considered the cheapest and easiest thing to do. But as the demand for resources and materials increases and customer expectations shift, this cannot be the way forward. We should rethink waste in a way that is better for business, the environment and the community.

When you are constructing a new building, it is also important to start with small steps by planning how you are going to manage the day-to-day waste in the building. Try placing recycle stations and bin collections, making it easy and accessible to tackle the huge problem of waste management.

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