Construction and Civil Engineering Projects: Minimizing the Environmental Impact

By Eric Monson

Infrastructure and civil engineering projects present significant opportunities for waste minimization, re-use and recycling. Designing out waste in these sectors not only makes economic sense but it should be a sustainable environmental cornerstone of any well designed project.

All good project design presents opportunities to remove waste from the construction and civil engineering landscape where large quantities of high value materials provide a basis for significant cost savings and environmental benefits.

There are a number of key principles that a good project design should consider at the pre-construction phase, such as preparing a site-waste management plan with these considerations:

• Materials reduction, reuse and recycling
• Off-site construction
• Material-and-supply-chain optimization
• Procurement strategy
• Post-construction

These basic principles act as a catalyst, providing a basis for technical solutions which should seek to ensure that waste minimization opportunities are maximized.

Materials Reduction, Reuse and Recycling

The reuse of materials from both the natural and built environment underpins the sustainable management of construction projects and reduces the burden on the environment.

Construction of the surrounding landscape provides many opportunities for reuse of demolition material, recovery and reuse of materials from the existing hard landscape and/or recovery of a variety of materials from the soft landscape.

A site-waste management plan is essential and will ensure regulatory compliance, good waste management practice and efficient use of resources.

Good project design will consider all of the following:

• Materials from the demolition of existing on-site structures can be re-used or recycled in the surrounding landscape design.
• Materials from the clearing of the existing surrounding landscape can be reused in the landscape design.
• Maximum value is being obtained from the reuse of valuable materials from the existing landscape.
• Excavated materials can be reused or recycled for landscape features. (Paving, walls, tarmac, concrete and aggregate rubble can all be used for a sub-foundation, drainage base or infill for new land forms.)

Soil analysis should be undertaken prior to any demolition or construction works to identify types and quantities of potential reusable or recyclable materials for retention on-site. Setting aside good quality, high-value materials from the existing landscape for reuse or resale is common sense and good practice.

Good topsoil is a highly valued commodity and should be graded and stockpiled for reuse. Excavated rocks can be used for drainage layers, landscape infill or ornamental landscape features.

Off-Site Construction

Good project design should ideally seek to coordinate and minimize the amount of trades and activities taking place on-site at any given time. This can significantly reduce costs, speed up the project and improve site health and safety. Two examples are as follows:

• Can internal walls, roof sections and retaining structures be precast or prefabricated off-site?
• Can use be made of pre-engineered solutions for landscape features and pathways?

Material and Supply Chain Optimization

Good project design should result in the optimum use of the supply chain and the efficient use of materials, increasing resource efficiency and minimizing material storage and waste during the construction phase without compromising the design concept.

Much can be achieved through clear specification and standardization of materials and through effective supplier coordination. For example:

• Can the range of materials specified be standardized to encourage the reuse of off-cuts during the construction phase?
• Can the hard landscape design and layout be simplified without compromising the design concept?
• Discuss methods of waste minimization with suppliers and manufacturers.
• Consider methods of packaging reduction with suppliers and manufacturers.

Good site management and construction programs will minimize conflicts and the need for re-work and/or redesign.

Procurement Strategy

Procurement strategy influences the construction process through specification, contractor scheduling and setting unambiguous targets for suppliers and contractors. Some basic examples include the following:

• Consider on-site operations and supplier-related waste and how these will be stored, treated, re-used, recycled or resold.
• Consult with specialist contractors and suppliers in regard to good practice, waste minimization and optimizing the supply chain.
• Review project specifications and contracts and identify materials and processes that reduce waste. Consider setting contractual targets and providing financial incentives/default remedies to reduce waste.
• Implement vendor/supplier assessment; seek to embed best practices through the tendering process, making clearly defined methods of waste minimization an essential feature.
• Specify and maximize the use recycled products .
• Develop procurement processes and materials requisition procedures that avoid waste; develop controls and scrutinize requisition systems to facilitate just-in-time delivery of materials and reduce surplus.
• Agree on take back schemes with suppliers and manufacturers.

Post Construction

It is essential to consider post construction maintenance at the project-design stage. The construction design should always consider potential future changes of use and, wherever possible, seek to minimize associated and excessive waste being produced.

• Can the design be adapted during its lifespan?
• Does the design incorporate reusable/recyclable elements and materials?
• Can landscape features be maintained, upgraded or replaced without creating waste?
• Have the project specifications and contracts been reviewed in favor of elements, materials and processes that minimize waste?

About the Author

Eric Monson, BSc, aims to assist businesses in the development of their environmental strategy, providing a platform for environmental compliance, best practice and sustainable business growth. Visit for further details.

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