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Blog December 2019 Updated July 2023

Overcoming hurdles in the construction & demolition waste industry

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Conor Dowd Product Marketing Manager

Increase your operational efficiency for delivering sustainability through your business processes

Construction and Demolition Waste (CDW) represents the highest single activity for producing waste in the EU. Many of the materials we generate as part of CDW have high resource value, such as metals, glass, wood, and concrete. Yet, too many of these materials are going to waste. Clearly, this is not sustainable.

We have to look at 2016 for the last time the EU compiled figures for construction and demolition waste (CDW) generated by the Member States. Keep in mind that it’s difficult to compare waste materials and circumstances of producing waste, as countries have different definitions. For instance, according to the EU, some countries class materials from land leveling as CDW. Others do not.

Pedantics aside, it’s the bigger picture that’s telling: CDW accounted for 36% of waste generated in the EU. 

At 36%, CDW represents the highest single activity for producing waste in the EU. Now consider that some of the materials these countries generally have high resource value, such as metals, glass, wood, and concrete.

Yet, too many of these materials are going to waste. In the UK, for example, that’s the fate of more than half of CDW is going to landfill. Clearly, this is not sustainable. It’s for all of these reasons that the EU designated CDW as a high-priority waste stream.

The potential for recycling and re-use

Re-use is always preferable to recycling, as it involves fewer processes. This isn’t always possible, of course, so the next step should be recycling. Demolished buildings can yield bricks and concrete that can find new life as eco-friendly road surfaces. Crushed and reconstituted asphalt can be re-used. Untreated wood can be turned into lumber and chipboard. Even gypsum can be recycled to make new products.

Germany recycles 68 million tonnes of CDW a year, though proportionally, the Netherlands is actually Europe’s leader, recycling 90% of their CDW. So much more can be done, which is why the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC set a target of 70% (by weight) of non-hazardous CDW to be recycled and re-used by 2020.

Revise: The Waste Framework Directive 2018/2008/98/EC

The Waste Framework Directive was quietly revised in 2018, with new targets laid out for municipal waste. Specific to CDW, the directive specified that this now includes waste that results from minor do-it-yourself construction and demolition activities within private households, where the materials fall under the description of CDW.

Member States also have to take steps to promote selective demolition. This will (1) promote safe removal and handling of hazardous substances; (2) facilitate re-use and high-quality recycling by selective removal of materials, and (3) ensure the establishment of sorting systems for construction and demolition waste, at the very least, for wood, mineral fractions (concrete, bricks, tiles and ceramics, stones), metal, glass, plastic, and plaster.

Lastly, by 31 December 2024, the European Commission will consider preparing for new re-use and recycling targets for CDW. This will include its material-specific fractions: textile waste, commercial waste, non-hazardous industrial waste, and any other relevant waste stream. If the Commission deems it necessary, legislation will be proposed requiring all relevant parties to reach those targets.

The purpose of these revisions is very simple: to motivate EU members to embrace a circular economy.

For anyone not familiar with the concept of a circular economy, it’s a business model that rejects the linear economy that we’re all used to – make, consume, throw away. In the circular economy, products are re-used, recycled and materials are recovered to produce new products. This not only minimizes harm to the environment, but it adds a degree of protection for businesses. A circular economy reduces shortages in materials, or resources while stabilizing prices.

So what is the problem? With the exception of a few EU members, only 50% of CDW is being recycled. We have to then look at the hurdles and how we can overcome them in order to get closer to that 70% target.

The EU Construction and Demolition Waste Management Protocol

According to the EU, the issues preventing the re-use and recycling of CDW are these:

  1. Lack of confidence in the quality of the waste being generated.
  2. Apprehension over the waste management process, i.e. potential health risks for workers handling recycled CDW materials.

Recycled concrete works just as well as new concrete, for example, yet concerns persist. These concerns limit the demand for recycled materials, which in turn slows down the development of CDW recycling infrastructures. To address uncertainties, the EU Construction and Demolition Waste Management Protocol laid out guidelines in 2016 to help practitioners, public authorities, certification bodies and buyers of recycled materials handle CDW properly, while increasing their trust.

The Protocol outlined out how these aims would be achieved. At a glance, those aims are:

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Achieving these aims: Yes, it can be done

First, the mere act of implementing these measures has to be economical if they’re to happen, which means efficiencies have to be maximized. The how-to is actually very simple. Smart technologies, including an EPR platform designed specifically for CDW management, can automate and standardize the necessary processes, resulting in significant cost savings while lessening environmental impacts.

Efficiencies come from the ability to centralize real-time data and information in one easily accessible database, instead of working in silos. This allows users to be agile, bringing yet more efficiencies to the table.

Improved waste identification, source separation, and collection: solutions

Plasterboard waste, for example, contains impurities, such as plastic and even metal. It can still be recycled after the impurities are removed. This involves separating gypsum from paper, which can be done by hand, and using electromagnets to take out the metals. The recycling process then involves crushing the gypsum into a powder to make new plasterboard.

What should happen under the Protocol is full auditing and tracking of the materials so that they go into the right container. How can this be done?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tracks assets with the use of sensors. It has the ability to integrate with other technologies, such as GPS and monitoring systems that track material and component inventories. Data can be captured and sent electronically to a database. RFID technology can tell us the location, volume, date, container movement, and more. Integrated with technologies, such as industry-specific software, RFID relays this information back to the relevant office in real-time so that decisions can be made regarding treatment.

What this does is provide proof that the material was sent to the right facility. This is evidence of quality management. Mobile devices can even record images and videos. GPS can report transportation routes.

Improved waste logistics: solutions

RFID facilitates re-use which, after waste prevention, is the most desirable and sustainable outcome for CDW. Components – for example, bricks or cables – can be tagged, traced, and tracked. The information about these components from RFID can be collected during all phases, from re-entry into the supply chain to re-use. As RFID validates and monitors collections, it also improves driver management.

Another technology that can significantly improve waste logistics is Intelligent Optimisation software. Again, it should be designed for the CDW industry in order to realize maximum value and efficiencies. Intelligent optimization should include route optimization. It balances route costs vs. service levels and non-overlapping routes vs. route costs. This ensures that CDW is transported via smarter, shorter routes to its destination. For some companies across the waste management industry, route optimization has resulted in a reduction of up to 25% fewer miles, driving time, and CO2 emissions.

Vehicle and mobile technologies combined with a best-in-class industry ERP enable proof of service, such as weighing and photo capture. Drivers issued with tablets can get digital schedule updates. Scale houses can operate much more efficiently with technologies that liberate operators. They can create scale tickets with unprecedented speed, and track materials by origin, destination, weight, volume, and units, collecting data to document compliance with regulations.

With a fully integrated ERP, visibility into inventory tonnage is real. Sales and material broker teams to support their activities. Everything can be managed – supplier, vendors, purchases, costs and more. These are all examples of precision at work, which is an integral part of raising confidence in CDW.

Improved waste processing: solutions

Before you can send CDW for proper treatment, you have to know what materials you have. An integrated ERP can give you a complete view of your inventory while supporting real-time adjustments. This is made possible with full visibility into your operations. You can see what finished and unfinished materials you have, and stock levels, by location. You’ll also receive automatic inventory updates.

So much of quality management is the ability to know, at any time, what’s happening in your operations in real-time. An ERP system designed for the CDW industry can give you that.

Quality management: solutions

Everything mentioned so far is part of quality management. A good ERP platform streamlines your processes and automates with built-in workflows that handle inbound and outbound inventory, material grading, inventory management. It evaluates contaminations and moisture and enforces quality validations and regulations.

Your ERP system should also generate reports, adding value to your conversations and relationships with suppliers. Health and safety is on the agenda too, with the vehicle and driver safety checks, and driver debriefing and vehicle breakdown handled.

Appropriate policy and framework conditions: solutions

So far, we’ve been talking about the private industry, but policy and framework conditions belong to public authorities at local, regional, national, and EU levels. A CDW industry-specific ERP works beautifully for this perspective, too, handling subcontractor management, documenting compliance, and handling waste transfer notes.

Keep in mind that that the right ERP is a step towards a circular economy. Paper processes are replaced by digitalization. Routes are better planned and significantly fewer miles are driven, avoiding CO2 emissions. It makes the recycling and re-use of CDW economically viable, which feeds into the development of the circular economy.

In conclusion

Keep in mind that if we don’t make the effort now to recycle and re-use CDW, more than likely, legislation will force the issue. Those that tap into an industry-specific ERP now will gain dramatic efficiencies through features such as instant reporting and intelligent optimization. These are the organizations that will inspire confidence in pot Cancel ential buyers and gain the most.

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