Monday, 10 December 2012

C&D waste recycling: Are we measuring the right thing?

2013 is the first year that the UK will be required to report figures for the recycling of construction, demolition and excavation waste under the Waste Framework Directive initiative to achieve 70% recycling by 2020.

While there is no doubt that some form of measurement is needed to allow us to monitor progress I have serious doubts about whether simply looking at a 70% recycling rate allows to achieve anything meaningful. What does recovery actually mean? If we look at the figures at the minute they seem to be very impressive – 20% of aggregates used in the UK come from recycled sources. That represents somewhere close to 45 million tonnes at the minute which represents half of all the CD&E waste produced according to Government estimates.

For my money we should be looking at raising the bar in the approach we take to dealing with CD&E waste. The vast majority of the material being produced at the minute is being used on very low value applications using the most basic processing possible. Surely we should now be looking at how we can move recycled material up the value chain?

Yes, there has been good success up to now with the numerous initiatives to increase the focus on the valuable resource that CD&E waste can provide. Yes, we should celebrate the commitment from the UK industry that has seen us lead the way in the adoption of new technology.

We should not however just keep measuring the same thing – we’ve moved on from simply trying to increase the amount of recycling of this material. The opportunity exists for us to turn this waste material into a real sustainable, high value alternative to virgin sand and aggregates rather than a cheap, low quality alternative.

How can we do this? Well maybe we can learn something from our European neighbours. After achieving more than 90% recycling of C&D waste some years ago in Belgium the target switched to improving the quality of recycled materials. This to me makes much more sense that simply aiming at a number that is fairly easy to achieve providing your description of what constitutes ‘recycling’ is wide enough.

If we’re simply doing this to tick another Brussels box then by all means keep measuring the volume of waste recycled. If, on the other hand, we’re serious about movingCD&E waste up the value chain and making the most of it as a valuable resource then it’s time for the focus to change. This happens by measuring something that encourages everyone in the CD&E waste recycling sector to up their game – from equipment manufacturers to material producers, architects, specifiers and building contractors.

Does the technology exist to do this? Yes it does. Will it help protect long term aggregate supply from a sustainable source? Yes it will.  In the words of a famous American sportswear manufacturer – Just Do It.

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