Friday, 15 August 2014

Let's stop focusing on hitting a meaningless 100% C&D waste recycling target

Insanity is…

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Every year yet another report is produced highlighting the crisis that is facing the UK construction materials industry as a result of dwindling reserves.

The latest report from BDS Marketing Research now says this situation “is now having a serious impact on the industry.” The report goes on to say that over 100 existing pits could close over the next five years unless extensions to extraction licences are granted. The report’s author, Julian Clapp goes on to say “aggregate companies need to get their planning applications submitted soon to ensure continuous aggregate supply.”

Despite this annual warning of impending doom the opportunity that it represents for the C&D waste recycling sector is not being fully exploited. Given the obvious supply gap that exists with virgin sand and gravel and crushed rock for construction applications why hasn’t there been more investment in advanced processing systems that offer specifiers a real alternative?

It’s an issue of positioning – and for too long recycled sand and aggregates have been positioned as a low value, lower quality option. “If there really is no other option then I suppose we could use recycled material.”

So how do we change this? First of all we need an acceptance within the C&D waste recycling sector that if we persist with the most basic processing of this material we will never be able to achieve the full potential offered by recycled sand and aggregates.

The advanced processing systems that will help to move recycled sand and aggregates up the value chain are out there – and many within the industry are already using them. These companies are enjoying the benefits of their foresight and are seeing recycled materials used in high value construction applications as a viable alternative to virgin materials.

While the success of these companies is to be applauded they are the exception rather than the rule. Let’s stop patting ourselves on the back about how good we’ve got at C&Dwaste recycling. Let’s face it – the definition of recycling is so broad that it’s not hard to hit. If we’re being honest with ourselves a lot of what is happening is simply dumping under another name.

The only way we’ll succeed in moving recycled sand and aggregates up the value chain is to stop focusing on hitting a meaningless “100% recycling” target for C&D waste and instead start focusing on increasing the volumes of this material that are used in high value construction applications.

By doing this we’ll not only be ensuring that we are extracting maximum value from this valuable resource but we’ll be in a great position to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the lethargy of the construction materials industry and the inadequate planning system that combine to create the opportunity in the first place.

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