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ISO 14001 case study: Waste management in a construction company

Waste management is a very important topic for any construction company, considering the vast amounts of waste present on every construction site. Besides being a great nuisance, the waste can be a source of hazards and financial expenses – not only because of potential fines, but also as a sign of non-optimized processes. ISO 14001 provides a framework for effective waste handling that can help organizations, if not to decrease their amount of waste, to at least handle it properly and realize cost savings on construction sites.

Case study

A customer of mine – let’s name it XYZ Company – typically constructs about 10 houses per year. The construction sites are scattered, and the style and size of each house tends to be very different. XYZ Company employs 10 people during the construction of each house. The company manages its construction waste by having a 30-cubic-yard container placed on each site at the beginning of the construction process. This case study will follow XYZ Company through the process and investigate how cost effective it would be for the company to manage construction wastes more closely.

Gathering information

Rather than conducting an extensive waste-generation audit, XYZ Company will use a short-cut method. Research on construction debris has shown that about 75 percent of this material is cardboard, wood, and gypsum, while the rest of the waste includes paints, oils, bitumen, and similar waste.

Through a phone call to the local solid waste agency, the company learns that the county operates an extensive recycling and waste disposal facility. At the company’s request, a pamphlet is mailed to the office, listing information on state and local regulations concerning construction wastes. In addition, the pamphlet lists disposal fees for various materials and also mentions disposal alternatives available at the county construction and demolition waste processing and transfer facility.

Through a single phone call, the company has identified options for two of the three materials it has targeted for lower-priced disposal alternatives. After making several more phone calls and asking other home builders, materials suppliers, and subcontractors about their practices, the company is able to identify a disposal alternative for scrap drywall.

Now the company needs to estimate the amount of cardboard, wood, and gypsum waste that is generated from its building activities each year. By examining copies of invoices the company received from its waste hauler during the previous year, it was determined that 93,500 kilograms of waste were generated from the construction of 10 houses during the previous year. This averages out to 9.35 tons of waste generated per house. Applying the average generation rates for cardboard, wood, and gypsum, as mentioned above, the company estimates that each house will produce about 5 tons of mixed waste, 2.5 tons of wood waste, 1.65 tons of gypsum board waste, and 0.2 ton of waste cardboard.

Developing waste management

Before implementation of ISO 14001 and a waste-management process, the company used to pay its waste haulers a certain fee, but the county solid waste authority accepted cardboard and all metals free of charge, with a significant discount on disposal of untreated wood and other waste construction materials, such as plastic, gypsum, carpeting, and treated wood. In order to achieve cost effectiveness, the company needs to sort its waste and deploy the county solid waste authority. By implementing ISO 14001, it developed a waste-managing process that can help in achieving this objective. For more information about handling waste, see: 7 steps in handling waste according to ISO 14001.

The main objectives of the waste-management process were to:

  • reduce / mitigate environmental impact
  • comply with laws and regulations
  • comply with ISO 14001:2015 by developing an Environmental Management System

The company developed a guideline for handling construction waste that defined that the waste would first be sorted into two categories: hazardous and non-hazardous waste. Waste exhibiting flammability, toxicity, corrosiveness, or reactivity would be considered hazardous waste and would require special handling, storage, use, and disposal precautions. Such waste included paints, oils, bitumen, batteries, and other chemicals used on the construction site. These types of waste were stored separately, according to applicable regulations, and deployed to authorized organizations while the company recorded the amount of the deployed waste.

The non-hazardous waste, such as cardboard, wood, gypsum, concrete debris, asphalt, steel, and metal scrap were stored on the construction site in separate containers with labels clearly indicating what kind of waste was inside. These kinds of waste were also deployed to different authorized recycling organizations, and the cost savings from deploying this waste enabled the company to invest in additional much-needed equipment.

Reducing environmental impact and cost on a construction site

As stated above, if a company can manage the waste on the construction site, it can almost certainly reduce cost and increase profit margins. Make sure you understand the terms of the standard and ensure that the reduction of waste plays a part in top management’s thinking when the environmental objectives are considered. It is considered good practice to establish a monitoring process to measure waste and drive improvements that reduce waste, as well as ensuring that your organization meets its legislative requirements in terms of collecting and disposing – all tasks that help the environment, cut costs, and ensure that no fines can be levied on you due to non-compliance with legislation.

Whether you decide to use an improvement team, a monthly forum, or simply engage your employees one by one for suggestions, all but the most efficient companies can identify and reduce areas of waste, both in the supply chain and internally. With the construction industry and its products having a higher-than-average impact on the environment, finding and eliminating this waste can be a positive thing for all stakeholders.

Why not use our free online training  ISO 14001 Foundations course to improve your knowledge of the ISO 14001 standard, and apply it to managing waste?

Advisera Strahinja Stojanovic
Strahinja Stojanovic

Strahinja Stojanovic is certified as a lead auditor for the ISO 13485, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and OHSAS 18001 standards by RABQSA. He participated in the implementation of these standards in more than 100 SMEs, through the creation of documentation and performing in-house training for maintaining management systems, internal audits, and management reviews.