Zero Waste is a philosophy that, ultimately, aims to eliminate rather than manage waste. It encourages a change in lifestyle and purchasing practices that promotes the reuse and recycling so that all discarded materials become resources for others to use.

The concept of Zero Waste can also be defined in a ‘big picture’ sense by making purchasing decisions that would prevent the production of waste in the future   

The Zero Waste International Alliance says this involves designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources and not burn or send them to landfill.

When it comes to the construction industry, zero waste management is not about recycling and diversion from landfill but about restructuring production and distribution systems to prevent waste from being produced in the first place.  

The materials that are still required in these redesigned, resource-efficient systems will be reused many times as the products that incorporate them are reused.

The Welsh government’s Towards Zero Waste strategy has established targets for achieving zero waste by 2050. For the construction sector, this will require a 1.4% reduction in the amount of waste produced every year between 2007 and 2050. This is the equivalent of about 75,000 tonnes of waste each year.

Building Information Modelling

Building Information Modelling can be instrumental in waste minimisation and best practice. Construction Excellence in Wales – the body charged with driving the change agenda in construction to produce a better built environment – is using BIM as part of its Enabling Zero Waste initiative to...

  • Review the original design with the aim of designing out waste
  • Establish whether design changes impact on material use and waste production
  • Develop practical solutions to help designers prevent and minimise waste on future projects
  • Calculate the potential for saving resources by using BIM post design to identify possibilities of reducing waste generated from repetitive items and define processes for future projects
  • Deconstruct buildings to calculate how much material could be reused and what changes need to be made to the design to maximise the potential for material reuse at the end of the building’s life

Deconstruction can be described as construction in reverse. It can capture materials and some components from the millions of buildings that are existing and that were poorly designed for high level reuse but it is not a favoured approach from a zero waste point of view. Zero waste favours the design of buildings as a collection of high-level components, not their creation from raw materials such as wood, cement or plaster.

To achieve zero construction waste, all strands of the industry (clients, designers, materials manufacturers, principal contractors, trade contractors, and the regulators) need to work together to achieve the most resource efficient solutions.

An argument has been put forward that what is currently legally classed as waste by regulators needs to be reassessed. This is because what is currently regarded as waste could be useful raw material. For example soils can be reused on other sites for raising levels, or to restore quarries. Steel and other metals are already widely recovered and upcycled into new products, but are rarely reused in their original form – the ultimate aim of the zero waste community. 

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