Construction and Zero Waste

Construction and Zero Waste

Oct 29th, 2020

It sounds like a daunting proposition to achieve zero waste in the world of construction, renovation, and demolition, yet an increasing number of companies are doing exactly that.

Total waste generation in Canada is the highest in the world!

It is no secret that Canada has a poor record of waste management. According to an international ranking of OECD countries by the Conference Board of Canada, Canada ranked 17th out of 17 countries in 2014. By the year 2018, Canada ranked 10th out of 33 OECD countries.

However, in 2017, Canada’s estimated total waste generation was the highest in the world, with 1.33 billion tonnes of waste or 36.1 tonnes per person. Between 30% and 35% of this massive number is attributed to activities in the building sector.

It is apparent that innovative solutions are needed to increase the recovery of construction, renovation, and demolition waste, with a big focus on plastics in general (over 30% of all plastic waste also comes from the construction industry).

The goal of zero-waste in this industry can only be achieved with the support of the following key aspects:

  • a well-designed approach with clear goals;
  • innovative thinking;
  • and the right partners who know the waste management industry inside out.

In February 2020 the Canadian federal government announced that it will give $1 million to each of the three companies that will develop technologies to address plastic waste from food packaging and construction. Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said at the time that plastic is a growing threat to Canada’s environment and that we need to act to reduce plastic pollution. He also stated that:

“These announcements are about tapping into Canada’s incredible potential to change how we produce, how we use, and how we recover plastic waste.”

Zero Waste in construction is possible

One company in Vancouver, BC, Sea to Sky Removal, is working hard on bringing awareness to the disposal of construction waste. This company has created systems to sort, recycle, and reuse much of the waste produced and managed on their work sites. They also hand-sort endless amounts of garbage bags as well as large piles of construction waste by separating recyclables, reusable building material, and lastly, general garbage.

Construction removal

The crew of Sea to Sky Removal even go to the extent of separating plastic sheets from tape and sorting those wee little plastic bags of nails and screws left from an appliance or cabinet.

Co-founder Cinci Csere told HSR Zero Waste that all builds (whether a passive house, a net-zero house, a Built Green, or a regular build) have one thing in common: an immensity of generated waste, adding:

“If we stand any chance of averting a climate catastrophe, we must start with the construction industry and stop thinking of it in the same way we have been for the last few decades.”

Through all the hard work and dedication the company successfully diverted almost 2 million pounds of materials from landfills since 2017.

Another innovative company is Vancouver-based Unbuilders, which instead of demolishing houses, deconstructs them and salvages the materials so they can be returned to the supply chain.

Recently Unbuilders CEO and founder Adam Corneil told CBC that he got the idea for Unbuilders about five years ago when he was working in construction, watching demolition crews toss out lumber from old homes. He added:

“I knew the value of that lumber because it was all old-growth Douglas fir lumber in those pre-1970s houses. It was just driving me crazy to see all of that lumber going to a landfill or the incinerator.”

Not only do they salvage materials to be used for other building projects, but they also donate materials, such as doors and fixtures, to Habitat for Humanity.

Enter Zero Waste

This entire industry is an area where Zero Waste can play a salient important role. Zero Waste is all about looking at the big picture and focusing on the issues, from a systems perspective: considering the entire network of consumption, production, and in this case, construction.

How you can help

If you are planning a construction, renovation, or demolition job, make sure to contact those kinds of companies who work hard to make sure your waste gets reused and recycled.

Ready to build your career in Zero Waste?

If you are ready to take your Zero Waste knowledge to the next level, then you can register for the Zero Waste Fundamentals Program.

This self-run course consists of 5 sessions, a mix of video classes, mini-quizzes, exercises, and additional resources. It is specifically designed for those who are looking for more in-depth knowledge on Zero Waste and aims to provide a solid foundation of Zero Waste practices, policies, values, and concepts.

After completion, you will be able to actively identify, support, and advocate for Zero Waste, achieving a Zero Waste Canada official certificate of conclusion.

It is time to delve into this new way of living and become the first among your colleagues, community, friends, and family, who started their journey toward Zero Waste.

Registration is now open and we hope that you will join the wonderful global community of Zero Waste enthusiasts!

Register here for the Zero Waste Fundamental program. You can also download the course handbook.

Don’t forget to share this post with all those who care for their environment and are ready for a new challenge!

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