Plan carefully so you don’t waste building materials.
Construction waste comprises up to 40 per cent of landfill in Australia, according to the building design guide, Your Home. Mark Sanders, managing director of Third Ecology, an architecture and building firm in Geelong, says that with a combination of thoughtful design, planning and site management, most waste can be avoided or salvaged. “The waste hierarchy of reduce, reuse and recycle applies to a building site, just like anything else,” he says.
There are a number of steps you can take before you begin to build or renovate. Talk to your designer first – smaller homes use less of everything, so the best way to cut the amount of materials needed for your home is to limit its size. Similarly, if you’re renovating, the thriftiest tactic is to keep as much of the existing building as you can.
The dimensions of the design will also affect rubbish on site. “Materials come in certain widths and lengths,” Mr Sanders says. “We can design with the standard sizes in mind to get the maximum use out of materials and minimise the waste.”
Using prefabricated products, such as frames and roofing, will also save landfill. “If some of the work can be done in a controlled, factory-type environment, then there should be not only less waste, but also better ways of dealing with the waste that does occur,” Mr Sanders says.
The next level in the hierarchy is reuse. Many building products are available pre-loved. Intact items such as doors are ideal for refitting. Material-wise almost everything can be reclaimed, from plasterboard, timber and glass, to metals like steel, aluminium and copper. Even concrete, plastics, bricks are good to go around again and are widely recycled by waste contractors.
But Mr Sanders offers a word of caution to over-eager scavengers. “The recycled products need to be fit for purpose. It’s not just a matter of using any old thing,” he says. “Make sure you’re aware of any issues that may mean the product is not as good as the alternative new one.”
If you’re willing to spend time, you’ll save money. It can be well worth your while fossicking for items with character. “You can come across some really beautiful timber,” Mr Sanders says. “Second hand resources are cheap to purchase, but they can need more labour to bring them up to scratch.”
To best recycle the waste produced on site, you have to get your builder onside, according to Enzo Bruscella, executive officer of the Barwon Regional Waste Management Group. “Speak to them about how they’re going to manage the site and the materials that come off it.”
To guarantee a good job, ask for a waste management plan, including targets for resource recovery and landfill waste reduction. It shouldn’t make your project more expensive, because any extra costs can be offset by lower disposal fees and the sale of salvaged resources. “These materials have value. We really don’t want them going to landfill,” Mr Bruscella says.
On the whole, the building industry has been slow to clean up its leftovers, so it’s important for householders to demand better standards. If you (or your builder) want more information, contact Keep Australian Beautiful Victoria, or your regional waste management group.