Construction and demolition waste accounts for about 1.7 million tonnes of landfill in Victoria alone every year and with the increasing number of housing developments, the problem is set to worsen.
RMIT researchers at the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering and the Centre for Design and Society turned their minds to solving this environmental issue by teaming up with industry leaders to develop a “zero waste house”.
Together with Burbank Homes and the Housing Industry Association, a research team led by Dr Enda Crossin helped develop a house that diverted more than 99 per cent of its construction waste away from landfill.
Crossin and his team investigated the underpinning reasons why different waste types were generated. They audited and measured types of discarded materials to determine how waste could be avoided.
Simple strategies such as reusing onsite surplus materials and minimising off-cuts were also employed to cut back on waste.
Crossin says the project, funded through Sustainability Victoria’s Beyond Waste Fund, started with examining the types of waste produced and how it could be reduced.
“The research aimed to firstly understand the amount, types and reasons for construction waste in a typical brick veneer house built in Victoria,” he says.
“Secondly, the research team wanted to investigate how much waste could be eliminated from a similar house, using participatory design techniques.
“Finally, we were interested in quantifying the environmental benefits of avoiding waste, including benefits from avoiding landfill and from reducing the need for raw materials.”
While decreasing building waste was the project’s top priority, it was also important for researchers to reduce associated environmental impacts. This included emissions created by the production and transport of unwanted resources and ultimately, waste disposal.
RMIT researchers worked with Burbank Homes to identify, implement and assess design and waste strategies targeted at reducing those environmental impacts.
Developing lean construction methods leading to low-waste production also had the benefit of streamlining operations in the construction industry, Crossin says.
“In addition to the environmental problems, onsite waste management is becoming an increasingly difficult logistical problem for the housing industry.
“The footprint of an average house relative to the block size is increasing, meaning that the space available for moving new material into, and waste out of, construction sites is becoming very limited.”
Developing alternative design and waste management techniques was the key to addressing construction waste problems. More specifically, the use of concrete bricks and half bricks contributed to a significant reduction in excess waste.
Of course, eco-design concerns had to be balanced with maintaining commercial viability of house design and construction.
Researchers shared their findings with Burbank Homes and hosted a series of design workshops to develop housing designs targeted at reducing waste generation.
“Following these workshops, Burbank built the new zero waste demonstration home, during the construction of which we ran some more audits to characterise and measure the waste types,” Crossin says.
The zero waste house was unveiled last year, marking an industry standard for sustainable house design.
Crossin says the research was so successful, it saw the reduction of waste in the average brick veneer house from about 9 tonnes to less than 50kg.
“The research highlights that simple design alterations and smart material management techniques can substantially reduce the amount of waste being generated from the construction of a new building,” he says.
“In addition, the research found that there were other beneficial outcomes from reducing waste onsite, such as improved site access and a safer site.”
Story: Kate Jones
This story was first published in RMIT's Making Connections magazine.