Waste and the built environment: a case study from the UK

Start date:
May 2010
November 2011

A think piece to explore trends and issues on waste in an urban context and their implications for planning and the built environment

Background & Aims
Our economy is built on the transformation of raw materials into goods and services. Until recently the waste produced along the way or at the end of a product’s life was seen as an unavoidable part of this process. However, economic growth around the world is putting increasing pressure on diminishing resources, leading to a reappraisal of how we consume resources and generate waste. Closely linked to this increased consumption of materials is the growing problem of waste disposal. Global production of waste – estimated to be between 2.5– 4bn tonnes in 2006 – is expected to increase by 7% year-on-year, putting increasing pressure on land required to manage the waste as well as the health and wellbeing of those handling the waste.

In May 2010, the RICS commissioned Brook Lyndhurst to produce a ‘think piece’ on the future of sustainable waste management to stimulate debate and prompt questions about the future of cities in a ‘zero waste economy’. This research aimed to:

• Explore trends and issues on waste in an urban context
• Draw out the implications for the urban form in general, and therefore the processes involved in the planning, development, and occupation of the built environment
• Assist built environment professionals to begin integrating waste and resource issues more fully within their strategic planning for the future.

This project involved desk research in three parts: an overall literature review, data collection, and investigating techniques and technologies.

Our research suggests a new approach is emerging in how we look at waste. The implications of this approach in terms of the built environment suggested five core themes that will affect cities and buildings over the coming years. These are:

  1. Zero waste construction – ‘green’ buildings will need to demonstrate not only that no waste went to landfill, but also that wastage through poor supply chain management (currently estimated at £1.5bn/year in the UK) is eliminated, that construction materials are recycled wherever possible and that the full lifetime consequences of construction (including in-use and at end-of-life) are accounted for
  2. High density environments – collecting and processing waste in high density environments such as cities is difficult and expensive; design, behaviour change and technological solutions that enable and encourage both households and businesses to adopt more resource efficiency and cost effective behaviours will need to be developed and implemented
  3. Business waste – the priority of waste policy in recent years has been upon household waste: the focus is now set to shift to business waste. New storage solutions and new collection and treatment facilities, for retail, industrial and commercial occupiers will be needed, with implications for shopping centres, business parks and office locations
  4. New technologies – the policy commitment to increase the production of ‘energy from waste’ (using relatively novel technologies such as anaerobic digestion) implies a much more disaggregated waste management system than has been in place in the past. Hundreds, possibly thousands of small-scale facilities will be required in the coming decade, with implications not only for spatial planning in a broad sense, but also for any and all sites that may have potential to host such facilities
  5. Sustainable resource planning – in the longer term, ever more resource efficient processes will begin to change locational preferences (as relative costs change), and efficient resource management will become an integrated part of the development of the ‘low carbon economy’. Cities and regions at the forefront of this progress will seek new forms of sustainable urban management solutions, in which ‘waste’ and resource management are integrated.

The full report can be purchased from the RICS website (see link to the right).

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