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Taking a Strategic Approach to Construction Waste Management

By Avetta Marketing
October 17, 2022
5 minutes
Taking a Strategic Approach to Construction Waste Management

Taking a Strategic Approach to Construction Waste Management

Achieving zero-waste goals in the residential construction sector requires a concerted, collective effort across the supply chain. Every stakeholder and participant, across every stage, must understand the initiative to reduce waste generation and reuse/repurpose materials wherever possible.

Today, we’re moving from vision to action. What actual steps can we take to lower the environmental impact of this industry and pave the way toward a more sustainable, eco-friendly future?

Here are the strategies that will help, and ways that companies can start implementing them in their own operations.

The Three Main Drivers

Before we dive into the specifics, let’s take a look at the main zero-waste levers that can drive sustainability in residential construction. These include:

  • Generating less waste
  • Reusing materials
  • Recycling

When contractors use materials more efficiently, less waste ends up at the landfill. This is the most desirable way to drive a zero-waste future in this sector, as it requires re-imaging the design/build process to be as lean, efficient, and cost-effective as possible from the beginning.

Once a project ramps up, if there are excess materials on hand, contractors can look for ways to either use them on-site, sell them, or donate them to prevent them from turning into waste. When this isn’t possible, they can recycle materials through designated construction and demolition (C&D) recycling firms.

From Initial Design to On-Site Builds: Steps for Sustainability

Zero-waste initiatives affect every part of the construction process, starting with the first brainstorming session. Here are three ways to weave these concepts into each stage.

Pre-Design Phase: A Focus on Material Optimization

As contractors work to create a scope of work for each project, the goal is to lower the volume of materials required. In turn, this will also lower the amount of waste generated during the actual construction phase.

Steps to take at this time include:

  • Set goals for waste reduction
  • Look for ways to implement the EPA’s design for deconstruction (DfD) and flexibility principles
  • Survey existing sites for reusable building components or adaptive reuse of the building
  • Use building information modeling (BIM) to analyze the lifecycle of materials

Schematic Design Phase: Strategic Material Selection

When it’s time to choose the specific materials for each build, contractors can drive a circular economy by looking for ways to reuse materials as often as possible. They can also prioritize manufacturers that offer materials with recycled content.

Steps to take at this phase include:

  • Hold a workshop with stakeholders to drive innovative material optimization and waste reduction solutions
  • Consider constructing building materials and modules off-site


Build Phase: On-Site Waste Management Planning

As projects begin, teams can monitor operations on the building site to ensure waste materials are properly segregated and recycled. Setting those steps up early and ensuring everyone understands how to follow them is key to putting them into practice.

This is also the time to develop key construction documents that detail how you’ll implement zero-waste strategies throughout the build. Steps to take at this phase include:

  • Develop a waste minimization plan
  • Use BIM for 3D project coordination and material data
  • Standardize similar elements of the build so they can be repeated
  • Allow teams to use offcuts and reclaimed products/materials where possible

Preparing for the Post-Build Phase: Replacement and End-of-Life

Certain products used in the build might be required or reach the end of the lifespan. When this happens, contractors can generate waste as they replace one component for another. Preparing for this occurrence during the building phase can help minimize waste down the road.

Steps to minimize waste levels at this stage include:

  • Design and prepare for slippage so you can remove short-lifespan layers without disrupting longer-lifespan ones
  • Establish end-of-life (EOL) strategies for each building layer
  • Use a service that incentivizes manufacturers to offer long-lasting, easily maintained products

Put Zero-Waste Construction Strategies Into Practice

This is a high-level look at some of the strategies that building teams can begin thinking about and implementing as they strengthen their commitments to ESG initiatives and zero-waste policies. Even if all of the mechanics aren’t quite in place yet, understanding how these strategies work is a smart step forward.

To learn more about these strategies, why they’re important, and how to put them into practice, check out our full webinar: Strategies for Zero Waste in Residential Construction. Click here to download and watch it today!

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