Minimising waste and using resources in the most efficient way is not only good commercial sense it can make a difference to the environment and minimise the impact our sector has on those affected by construction work. Steve Menary reports on changing expectations.

With a dozen years to go, can the plaster and drywall sector meet the requirements of the Ashdown Agreement and ensure that zero waste goes to landfill by 2025?

That target is ambitious but has already been achieved on individual projects. At Marks & Spencer’s new eco store at Cheshire Oaks, Irlam-based specialist Bluegyp achieved this despite some strict requirements from M&S and main contractor Simons. These ranged from ensuring all timber was certified as sourced sustainably by the Forestry Standards Commission to supplying waste transfer tickets so that Simons knew no waste was fly-tipped.

Bluegyp director John Marrin explains: “Everything was recycled. There was no general waste and nothing went to landfill. Where we struggled was with Mastic tubes but someone came in to get the last bit out of every tube.”

In such austere times, adding that sort of expense is difficult at a time when specialist contractors are looking to introduce efficiencies into an already taut supply chain. Achieving a balance is important.

David Serra, a director at Sutton-based specialist contractor George Jackson says: “Being ecological is about the environment, but currently it’s also about being financially efficient – if we can reduce the amount of materials we use to produce and install our products there is a saving which we can pass on to our clients too making us more competitive.”

A new initiative entitled GTOG – Gypsum to Gypsum – being coordinated by the European trade association EuroGypsum to comply with the Ashdown Agreement could ultimately produce some benefits.

An initial meeting was held inBrusselson January 22 between the 16 bodies in GTOG, which range from manufacturer Siniat to universities inGreeceandSpainand demolition contractors, includingUKoutfit Cantillon.

Siniat’s sustainability manager Steve Hemmings says: “There’s new construction and waste from refurbishment. The tough nut to crack is demolition. We’re looking at how we take buildings apart so we can develop capacity and technology.”

That technology could provide some spin-off benefits for specialist contractors in the future. In the short-term, the priority is reducing site-generated waste and manufacturers are playing their part.

Using Mastic sausages instead of tubes means site staff can get out all the Mastic, which eradicates the problems encountered by Bluegyp at Cheshire Oaks. More sausages also fit into a recycling skip than traditional tubes. And last year, British Gypsum introduced a fleet of 128 teardrop trailers, which helped cut emissions by five per cent.

Brian Andreas, sustainability leader at British Gypsum, says: “Companies like British Gypsum are also offering greater advice and support to contractors to improve on site sustainability. British Gypsum offers a bespoke cutting service for its plasterboard products, which eliminates the need to cut product on site, saving time, minimising waste and reducing the likelihood of error.”

Berkshirecompany V-Cut is also targeting that market with a system that involves cutting grooves into plasterboard from a straight cut to a V cut or even curves. That board can then be simply folded to the required shape for quicker and better installation.

The technology has been used on schemes from Wembley Stadium, Stratford Shopping Centre and Terminal 2A atHeathrowAirportright down to small shop-fitting projects, but persuading specialist contractors of the benefits has not been easy.

V-Cut director Ian Sawyer says: “Machining of plasterboard so that it folds or to create features and details is widely used inEuropebut still relatively unknown here. It has not been easy to get anyone to consider changing from the traditional way of doing things despite the product offering a faster, better quality and cheaper solution.

“In Europe it’s possible to buy plasterboard direct from the manufacturer but generally at better rates than in theUKhence the manufacturers have sought value added propositions to increase margin. Also, in spite of the general propositions of main contractors to adopt modern techniques, still most purchasing decisions are forced down the supply chain. With plasterboard that often means very small skill based companies or individuals are left to produce details. You cannot reach, let alone educate these.

“The v cutting approach definitely saves time and money but we find our client base has mixed views on the extent of off-site fabrication. The industry has a long way to go in adopting an approach which introduces modern methods of construction, is labour saving, and has waste reducing techniques.”

Until that changes site waste seems inevitable. Brian Andreas agrees, saying: “Even if many measures are taken to reduce waste, it’s inevitable some waste material will be left on site,” says Mr Andreas.

“Companies can advise architects and specifiers how to use fewer types of products on a job. By limiting the number of products on site, if waste is produced, it is more likely that the off cuts can be used elsewhere.”

That advice, says Steve Halcrow, technical manager at the Federation of Plaster and Drywall Contractor, is rarely heeded. He says: “The ultimate way to reduce waste is by design,” says Mr Halcrow, suggesting a change in the mind-set of the architectural fraternity has to be a priority.