The prefab advantage for waste minimisation

Waste minimization

If you have tuned into the news lately you may have noticed that waste, including construction and demolition (C&D) waste, is a hot topic right now. The Government is coming down hard on plastic waste and also has C&D waste in its sights.

Why C&D waste? Well, in 2014 BRANZ research indicated that C&D waste may represent up to 50% of all waste to landfills in New Zealand, and the majority of waste to cleanfills or C&D dumps. That’s a lot of waste coming from our building sites. These figures signal a major opportunity to improve current practices around the recovery and recycling of C&D waste.

The Ministry for the Environment (MFE) agrees. MFE recently undertook consultation on a number of proposals to increase the Landfill Levy and apply it to more landfill types. The theory is that by increasing the cost of disposing of waste to landfills, waste-generators will be incentivised to recover or recycle waste in the first instance.

Of interest to the construction industry is MFE’s proposal to increase the current Levy rate for C&D fills from no charge, to a transitional rate of $10 per tonne, and ultimately a rate of $20 per tonne by 2023. MFE estimate that this would increase Levy-related waste disposal charges for C&D waste from around $6.6 million per annum to between $68.9 - $75.55 million per annum.

So what does this mean for the prefabricated building industry? Well research has shown that prefabricated building processes generate less waste than typical onsite construction methods and that what waste is generated, is more easily recyclable. BRANZ research completed in 2013, for example, cited the modular home industry in the USA, which generated waste levels of around 2% compared to the traditional onsite industry’s waste levels of up to 40%. That’s quite some difference.

The current national debate regarding waste disposal provides a fantastic opportunity for the prefabricated building industry to advocate for offsite construction based on its lower C&D waste generation rates. This gives offsite a distinct advantage over typical onsite construction, without having to modify business-as-usual manufacturing processes.

Such opportunities can be realised in the marketing and advertising of prefabricated buildings and components, particularly when dealing with government agencies who may have sustainability (and waste minimisation) criteria within their procurement processes.

In a nutshell, prefab = less C&D waste. In the current climate of waste minimisation, it is opportune to emphasise this as much as possible. Any advantage that prefabricated building or manufacturing companies can gain from favourable C&D waste credentials over onsite competitors is worth exploring.

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