What a waste

The construction industry is renowned for its waste but can no longer ignore the need to sort and recycle waste. According to government statistics, over 70 million tonnes of waste is produced by the construction industry every year.
Some of it is necessary waste that can’t be avoided but, amazingly, an average of 13% of all the materials delivered to site never get used – they are simply thrown away. And there’s no justification for this other than bad planning and bad management – though I’m sure no BSEE readers would ever be guilty of such a heinous crime.

However, thanks to recent legislation such as the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive, simply landfilling a lot of these materials out is no longer an option. Any electrical items, for instance, have to be sent for recycling through an accredited and certified waste management chain.

This has serious implications for anyone managing the refurbishment or replacement of building services such as lighting – or anything else that has a power supply for that matter. Any such items have to be separated from other waste to ensure they don’t end up in a skip – a flouting of the regulations that would lead to serious fines for whoever is responsible. And in many cases the responsibility for the recycling will come as part and parcel of the Duty of Care that goes with the project management role.

Furthermore, unless things are planned carefully, it may be necessary to separate the WEEE further; into types of electrical items to be collected by different recycling specialists, for instance. That’s one of the reasons why it pays to vet recycling companies carefully to ensure they are going to meet all of your needs.

Another, more important, consideration is to ensure that the selected company will provide compliance with all of the legislative requirements, particularly in relation to those WEEE items that are also classified as hazardous waste – such as discharge light sources. In fact, discharge light sources such as fluorescent, sodium and metal halide lamps are a common form of waste in building services projects. It may be routine maintenance, which will normally already include arrangements for safe disposal. Or it may be a refurbishment, or a fit-out where the lighting installed during the shell and core phase is being replaced.

Under the WEEE Directive these light sources have to be recycled but because they contain small amounts of mercury and other heavy metals their disposal is more demanding than with many other forms of WEEE. In fact, they are one of the most difficult types of waste to dispose of, which is why there are only a couple of recyclers in the UK that have the facilities to handle all of the recycling procedures related to light sources.

For example, for the glass to be re-used after crushing, the phosphors have to be stripped off to leave clean glass. As the phosphors contain mercury, they are then subjected to very high temperatures (around 800°C) to distil the mercury and reclaim it as a pure liquid. Sodium is also reclaimed and any ferrous and non-ferrous metals are also separated and sent for re-use.

Also, it’s important to bear in mind that any light sources that are collected together on site awaiting disposal will need to be stored in appropriately robust containers with signage to indicate the presence of hazardous waste. In addition, all waste management needs to be backed by a thorough audit trail.

For all of these reasons it’s important for everyone in the industry to become much more ‘waste aware’ – in much the same way as health and safety is addressed through heightened awareness. It’s also important to devise procedures that address all of the legislative and environmental requirements without imposing a massive administrative burden. Very often this will be by placing the onus of compliance on the waste contractor.

To that end I would suggest that it pays to work with a contractor that can provide a comprehensive service covering all of the different types of WEEE, rather than a number of different contractors. Adopting this approach brings significant benefits in terms of on-site storage and management as well as the paperwork that confirms compliance.

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