Construction waste is important even if it’s not particularly glamorous. In their landmark book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”, architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart describe all components as either “technical nutrients” or “biological nutrients”.
Technical nutrients, like the copper wiring in the motor of a ceiling fan, can be infinitely reused. Biological nutrients, like the wooden fan blades, degrade to make food for other organisms. Both can have great value.
Conservation: Before the Work
Conservation is the most effective way to reduce construction waste: using design to reduce waste. When we design to material modules, the builder doesn’t have to discard as much material. This can be accomplished by designing to the material modules. Though that may be simple, it’s not always common.
Conservation can also mean working with subcontractors to help them understand that more is not always better. For example, smart framing techniques can reduce the material costs of a framing package on a typical house by up to 30%. The additional structural materials that some subcontractors install just because they’ve always done it that way are often unnecessary. Excess materials also crowd out valuable components like insulation and make installation of building systems more difficult.
Obviously, the savings from a 30% reduction in the material costs of the project and the reduced labor from a faster assembly|erection time can be used elsewhere in the project. In addition to using the project budget more efficiently, this also means we’ve been better stewards of our material resources.
Trash and Demolition: Segregation of Waste Streams
Whether we’re dealing with waste from new construction or demolition, we typically need to segregate the different waste materials so they can be properly handled. Don’t forget that demolition projects may have toxic components and materials regulated by the government.
Segregating the waste streams requires a plan of action. First we need to identify disposal resources, from recycling and scrap companies to waste hauling companies. Once we have a way to dispose of the waste streams, we need all of the subcontractors to segregate the materials. This task is often delegated to the general contractor though we prefer to create a written plan to everyone is agreed.
Paying attention to construction waste means we’re paying attention to efficiency. Our goal is to make the best possible use of the materials and project budget. The challenges lie in coordinating the design and the tremendous number of vendors and subcontractors on a typical project.