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Blog December 2019 Updated July 2023

Overcoming hurdles in the construction & demolition waste industry

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Conor Dowd

Conor Dowd

Global Product Marketing Manager, AMCS

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 much 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 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 levelling 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 generate have high resource value, such as metals, glass, wood and concrete.

Yet, too much 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 minimises harm to the environment, but it adds a degree of protection for businesses. A circular economy reduces shortages in materials, or resources, while stabilising 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 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:

  • Improved waste identification, source separation and collection
    The updated Waste Framework Directive called for selective demolition and improved on-site operations. That has to happen here, at source, where the CDW management process begins. Pre-demolition audits and waste management plans have to be formulated and implemented. The audits, carried out by an expert, will identify materials and their quantities. Hazardous waste and materials that interfere with recycling have to be separated.
  • Improved waste logistics
    This involves transparency, tracking and tracing, which gives buyers confidence. The pre-demolition audits reveal what materials to expect. Electronic registries enable record keeping and traceability. It’s also vital that hazardous waste is declared.

    The other critical part of improving waste logistics is getting CDW to sorting and recycling plants via the shortest distance. Materials such as asphalt and concrete are heavy, making transporting the waste expensive. And if it’s expensive, it’s not economically viable. There’s also the harm done to the environment if travelling over long distances, which negates the good that recycling does.
  • Improved waste processing
    This underscores the importance of pre-demolition audits and source separation. Hazardous waste must be kept apart from non-hazardous waste, for example. This also prepares materials efficiently for re-use – onsite if there’s a need – which, as already noted, is preferable to recycling. Technologies for waste processing and treatments already exist. The more stringent contractors are in pursuing this avenue, the higher the confidence in potential buyers, thus creating more demand.
  • Quality management
    This needs to be seen in the stages we’ve talked about so far. Selective demolition, pre-demolition audits, planning, tracking and tracing, proper CDW handling and processing – all of this and more are part of quality management, which has to happen throughout the supply chain.

    Use European product standards where relevant. Where it’s not, use European technical assessments, which can still be CE-marked. This assures customers of full transparency.

    When quality management is demonstrated to potential buyers, again, trust is formed. This is especially important when we’re talking about high-end applications and large volumes. Potential buyers have to know that what they’re getting is of the highest quality.
  • Appropriate policy and framework conditions
    Without a strict regulatory framework in place, none of the previous steps can happen. This involves regulations and enforcements, and permits and licenses issued by local authorities. This will require clear ownership of CDW.Post demolition visits and evaluations by authorities enable
    work and processes to be monitored and reported.

    To make all of this feasible, the administrative work involved can not be so cumbersome that it creates bottlenecks. Bans or restrictions on landfills – certainly high landfill taxes – can incentivise the growth of re-use and recycling, but infrastructure and alternative facilities need to be made available. (This has been seen in Hong Kong; a landfill tax led to a rise the number of fixed and mobile crushing and recycling sites.)

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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 maximised. The how-to is actually very simple. Smart technologies, including an EPR platform designed specifically for CDW management, can automate and standardise 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 a 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 video. 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 realise maximum value and efficiencies. Intelligent optimisation should include route optimisation. 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 optimisation 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 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 private industry, but policy and framework conditions belong to public authorities at local, regional, national and EU levels. An 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 digitalisation. 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 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 optimisation. These are the organisations who will inspire confidence in pot Cancel ential buyers and gain the most.

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