The government’s Construction 2025 industrial strategy said that how projects come to market has a significant impact on the ability of the construction industry to provide innovative, whole life value for money solutions. It said that much waste in construction is driven through the approach to risk across the supply chain. Specfinish brought together contractors and manufacturers for the latest Industry Round Table Debate, sponsored by GPDA, to discuss designing out waste. Adrian JG Marsh reports.

“Government wants to reduce costs of construction by 25 per cent and reducing waste is an important part of the process, so how are we going to reduce waste?” asked Prof Rudi Klein, chairman of the FPDC Industry Round Table Debate.

“The real enemy of waste is time,” said Peter Gallagher from Sir Robert McAlpine.
“All contracts are pushing to the finish line and if time was not an issue we wouldn’t have problems.

“Storage and better handling of materials on site could reduce waste. If your culture is to keep sites tidy then you’ll be more efficient. Yes there are site challenges, but keeping floors tidy helps with safety and also seems to generate less waste.”

Steve Howie, from Drytech, then asked: “Do we know how much waste (the industry) produces? We measure our waste and we reckon that around 14 to 15 per cent of materials are taken away (as waste).

“Reducing the amount of plasterboard waste on site is where it seems there’s potential to make a bigger difference to our sector. Using off-cuts in eco-door details is one way that can help to reduce waste.”

Matthew Sexton, from British Gypsum, agreed: ” We all know it’s not easy to put off-cuts to one side and store, but if off-cuts could be prioritized and we had time to think where these can be reused, I feel there are ways to reduce waste that needs to leave site.”

AMP Interior’s Tony Pearce said: “Educating our labour to work more efficiently might help to reduce waste but let’s not forget that fitters are on a price and their aim is to get a wall built. On some jobs it can be more efficient to just throw waste away.

“Having more time and increasing storage space may help, but it won’t happen because of costs. And trade contractors are under pressure to increase speeds of installation. Big difference is design at the start and often the sequencing of trades.”

Paul Lonergan, from Knauf Drywall, said: “Waste is generated at all levels so what we need to do is understand the different types of waste. The incentive is to reduce the waste we have control over and not blame others. We’re still left with a large element of waste caused by achieving the design intent of the client.”

FPDC’s Steve Halcrow commented: “Plasterboard is viewed by most as a cheap commodity product, but lots of ‘cheap’ waste soon adds up! The end-to-end lifetime of the product is staggeringly costly when you take into account manufacturing, transport, use, skipping, transport again and disposal.

“We want to encourage more sympathetic, considerate design. If more careful thought is given to the use and shapes of materials at the design stage, it will be possible to remove a lot of waste before you even get to site. Currently a significant proportion of waste is built-in-waste that could easily be avoided altogether. Perhaps this is something that BIM could help with.”

Leigh Omer, from Eclipse Procurement Solutions, said: “BIM is sophisticated enough to predict waste but the interiors sector is not as advanced as M&E contractors at the moment.”

Steve Howie then said: “Procurement times are much shorter these days and as a result  it’s not uncommon for orders to be made at the last minute, so there’s little scope to pre-order different sizes.”

Chris Body from Siniat said: “Non-standard heights are more expensive, but it’s possible to manufacturer bespoke sizes. We do need to plan production and with enough lead time almost anything can be delivered. But everyone wants materials tomorrow!”

Rudi Klein suggested that that if designs weren’t construction-friendly, specialist subcontractors don’t get the chance to talk to an architect at an earlier stage to suggest ways to improve efficiency and reduce waste. “How do we change this?” he asked.

Leigh Omer said: “Yes we do hear more requests from subcontractors to get them in earlier in the procurement process. Where changes are suggested they’re not always acted on because of the impact they might have on other trades.”

Peter Gallagher commented: “Design teams often specify systems (for drywall), so it’s essential they fully understand the implications for selecting one system over another.”

Tony Pearce said: “Drylining is so versatile it should be possible to change something to a more efficient way. By involving the architect and main contractor in a professional way you can identify more efficient and cost effective ways.”

Matthew Sexton then said: “Plasterboard manufacturers are already achieving zero waste to landfill from the manufacturing process. But up the line it is more difficult because there are so many dynamics in the supply chain and no two sites are similar. The client sets the parameters.”

So are other trades to blame? Tony Pearce said: “The M&E trade is slated for being the main culprit for disruption but we find that if penetrations are done correctly and positioned correctly there is no problem. But if the trades go out of sequence that’s when problems occur and waste can escalate.

“The finishing trades are all being squeezed on the programme. We need to recognise where the value is. If it’s a bespoke system there is less waste but bespoke will be more expensive.”

“Subcontractors often bear the brunt of waste issues on site,” said Peter Gallagher. “There’s generally no real incentive to reduce waste. If there was then we might see a lot less across the entire construction process.”

Tony Pearce commented: “If the right culture exists designs can be developed to be more construction friendly. At one of the first Glaxo Stevenage contracts the design and construction team were really forward thinking and designed out waste to almost zero.”

Leigh Omer then highlighted that space is at a premium on site: “It’s easy for one trade to interrupt and cause problems for another. It’s essential for key subcontractors to get together and work more efficiently. To do this it means you must work on more than one job (together). You learn from continuous improvement when working on a series of contracts.”

Matthew Sexton agreed: “If you do work as a team you can manage risks and build relationships. The most efficient contracts have generally been where projects are discussed before they’ve even dug a whole in the ground.”

Improved on-site efficiency needs subcontractor input. Steve Howie said that to reduce waste in the construction process the subcontractor is often the one with most practical experience: “Until we’re on-board you can’t get fully involved. True partnerships allow you to participate.”

All the guests agreed that the recession has seen less partnerships in recent years. However, environmental issues and safety had grown significantly in importance when clients select contractors.

Paul Lonergan said: “Design and planning has a huge impact on waste creation. Some building owners are pushing for high BREEAM rating. So waste, whether process or materials, will become an even bigger issue in the coming years.”

A BREEAM assessment uses recognised measures of performance, which are set against established benchmarks, to evaluate a building’s specification, design, construction and use. The measures used represent a broad range of categories and criteria from energy to ecology. They include aspects related the environment, pollution, transport, materials used and, of course, waste.

Rudi Klein posed another question: “If the industry was to make carbon and waste targets a way services are procured then the debate may move forward. If tangible targets were set would the industry have to present examples of how savings (time, carbon and material waste) can be achieved?”

Matthew Sexton said that pilot projects can test concepts: “On a test project we’ve found that there are savings to be gained by planning in advance. By going bespoke you can avoid duplication of effort, bring down materials waste and reduce labour costs. But it needs all members of the project team to buy in and start from the outset.”

Steve Howie mused: “Cutting out waste is a bigger issue than it used to be because margins are a lot tighter. We’ve had to be more analytical about pricing work. You can’t rely on better buying alone but need to analyze processes . We’ve learnt a lot from the recession and the management of waste is much tighter than it ever was before.”

The message that was coming out was clear: considerate and carefully planned use of materials on site can bring about savings. For contractors, less wasted board means less wasted money.

Does technology have a role in this? In time possibly, as Leigh Omer said: “To design out waste you need to make use of BIM, it’s there to help manage the design process, this will engage designers much earlier and bring the client into the debate.”

Peter Gallagher reiterated that all stakeholders need to appreciate time and the challenges it creates when time becomes a precious commodity. He said: “build it once, build it right.”

As the building finishes and interior fit-out sector begins to escape the era of austerity, it would be easy for reducing waste objectives to take a back seat. Given the potential savings, the question is can the sector afford not to keep it in the front seat?