Resource recovery first for the Science Building lecture theatre upgrade

25 July 2008

Property Services staff and building contractors recently celebrated the successful completion of the upgrade of two large lecture theatres in the Science Building (301).

The upgrade was the first of the University’s refurbishment projects to recover and recycle resources that would formerly just have been sent to landfill.

This pilot recycling project was prompted by growing concerns about building sites as one of the biggest contributors to waste in New Zealand. Construction waste comes in two parts: the demolition portion and the waste generated directly from the construction process.

Project Manager Neil Buller says a surprising amount of waste is created on building sites during construction. This includes large quantities of plastic and shrink-wrap (everything from timber to furniture to insulation comes wrapped in plastic) along with cardboard and off-cuts of plasterboard, wood and metal.

“It’s becoming more commonplace to set up recycling systems for construction projects. It’s something the whole building industry has to think about because the amount of waste being produced is huge and we can’t just keep sending it off to landfill – it’s just not sustainable,” Mr Buller says.

While all recycling systems tend to come with a cost – generally resulting from the extra effort required to segregate and store waste without cross contamination – economies of scale and ready markets for recovered resources will help to bring their costs down.

In the lecture theatre upgrades the builders were asked to segregate the construction waste into wood, plastic, cardboard, metal and general waste. Green bins full of the each type of waste were collected on site and wheeled to corresponding skips. The skips had to be surrounded by a security fence to stop outside contamination. Once a fortnight the skips were removed and the recovered resources recycled.

“The object was to significantly reduce the quantity finishing up as landfill, and this was certainly achieved”, says Neil.

The Ministry for the Environment estimates construction and demolition waste represent as much as 50 percent of all waste generated in New Zealand.

In another first, resources were recovered from the demolition of the Te Toi Hou building, which was part of the Elam School of Fine Arts on Symonds Street. All native timbers in the building were sent to a timber yard for recycling, all concrete was sent away to be crushed and reused, and all steel was sent to a scrap merchant for recycling.

Property Services is committed to reducing the waste the University sends to landfill. This project has provided valuable lessons on how to best to apply the approach to future upgrades and construction projects.