Despite near-term challenges associated with the global supply chain, residential and multifamily construction is on the upswing. In fact, more apartments are scheduled to be built in 2022 than in any single year since at least the 1980s.
As that growth accelerates, there is rising concern over the environmental implications. The construction industry is a leading contributor to global waste production, generating 30% of all landfill wastes.
Today, we’re taking a closer look at the effects of this production, what’s being done to curtail it, and what a zero-waste future could mean for this industry.
The Issue of Construction Waste Management
There are many steps in the construction value chain that have to occur for a project to go from initial planning to actual design to final occupancy.
Throughout each stage, one of the biggest causes of concern is the way contractors dispose of waste generated at their work sites.
As they continue to put excess materials into landfills, it leads to environmental and health hazards. These range from land degradation and habitat destruction to soil and groundwater contamination and the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
The Big-Picture Perspective
On a project-by-project basis, the amount of construction waste generated might not seem like too much. However, it’s important to consider the wide-scale impact of this practice.
Take New York City, for instance. In 2014, there were 534 million tons of construction and demolition debris generated in the city, all of which ended up in local landfills. In comparison, there were only 258 million tons of municipal solid waste generated that year.
That means the construction sector produced nearly double the amount of waste that individual occupants in the city produced on their own. This comparison underscores the need for construction companies to find sustainable suppliers that can adhere to best practices around recycling, repurposing, and other alternative disposal methods.
The Impact of the Build Environment
It isn’t just the building process itself that contributes to the global waste stream. Once those buildings are up and occupied, they continue to pose a threat to the environment, primarily through the amount of energy they require to run.
On a worldwide scale, countries are taking action to mitigate this threat. To date, 104 of the 194 countries that signed The Paris Agreement have committed to improving the energy efficiency of their buildings. While this is significant progress , few have yet to take real action to address the problem, as only 68 countries currently have building energy codes in place.
Meanwhile, pollution levels are rising and the effects of climate change are more prevalent than ever before. These effects are virtually inescapable, as 91% of people live in an area where air pollution levels exceed limits set by the World Health Organization.
While there have been strides made in the alternative energy sector, the reality is that buildings are still reliant on fossil fuels as their primary source of power. Research shows that these structures contribute 39% of all global carbon emissions and 50% of global material use, consuming 42.4 billion tons of material per year.
The fallout from insufficient construction management isn’t just detrimental in the short term. As these problems continue, they compound over time, especially as our global growth rate shows no sign of slowing down.
By 2050, analysts predict that the global population will increase by 27%, reaching 9.8 billion people. More people require more buildings. To compensate for this expansion, the global floor area is set to increase by 100% over the same time period, and energy demand will increase by 50%.
What Can Be Done
While the statistics above can be disheartening, they are also motivating. There’s never been a better time to focus on sustainability in supply chains, especially within this realm. The construction space is ripe for immediate and deep impact that can improve lives, communities, and countries as a while,
We understand that waste management can be daunting. It’s easy to overlook opportunities for recycling and repurposing, especially if you don’t know that those alternatives exist. The more you know where to look for hidden waste costs, the earlier you can take action.
Consider every aspect of your projects, including material sourcing, project planning, design, and on-site practices. Then, work with your suppliers and contractors to establish critical strategies to mitigate waste before, during, and after the construction process.
For ideas on how to get started, we encourage you to check out our new webinar: “Strategies for Zero Waste in Residential Construction.” You can view the entire webinar online here. Sign up to download it today.