Fletcher Construction Australia

Waste Minimisation and Recycling: Fletcher Construction Australia


Courtesy of Fletcher Construction Australia

A test project involving simple, practical waste minimisation and recycling measures, has helped Fletcher Construction cut its waste removal cost by more than half. The measures did not involve any capital cost, but they have resulted in substantial savings to both the company and the environment: savings of 55% were achieved on waste removal costs through recycling and input reduction, which also meant that the volume of waste sent to the landfill was cut by 43%.
As a result of the successful trial - the first of its kind in the Australian construction industry - Fletcher has now incorporated green measures into its national policy, aiming to reduce waste on every site by 25%. Its sister company in Seattle, Washington, has implemented similar measures.


According to the Recycling and Resource Recovery Council (RRRC), construction industry waste accounts for 44% of total landfill in Victoria. In 1992, the Victorian RRRC agreed to provide Fletcher with $40,000 to contribute to a trial waste minimisation program. The money was to underwrite the cost of measuring waste throughout the project, auditing the books and writing the final report.

Fletcher spent six months preparing a detailed proposal to pilot reducing waste and recycling on site. In January 1993, Fletcher selected two similar Melbourne construction sites for trialling the program, one of which would introduce recycling and waste minimisation measures, while the other would adopt the traditional approach to handling on-site waste.

The process

The pilot project compared the construction of two suburban police and court complexes at Dandenong and Frankston in Melbourne, which were similar in design.

The Fletcher team at Dandenong was chosen to test the waste minimisation measures developed for the pilot project. These were based on two principles:

  • how to manage waste efficiently;
  • how to avoid creating waste in the first place.

Careful planning was required by the Dandenong site team. Prior to commencement of construction, strategies were put in place to reduce waste at its source through each phase. Each waste management plan has to be site specific to remain cost effective.

In consultation with his team, the project superintendent, Bruce McDonald, drew up the site plan. Leading hand, Carl Surtees, was responsible for implementing the project on site, including the collecting and recording of data. Construction worker Sam Trotta ensured site wastes were correctly apportioned.

Training was minimal. Workers were briefed on the first day of work about the waste minimisation goals and how they would be achieved. Waste minimisation was discussed at project site meetings and results were regularly posted on the site notice board. Compliance was high with almost everyone happy to contribute.

Cleaner production initiatives

Initiatives were developed and implemented with input from the whole project team. These included:

  • Products which contain recycled materials were sought for incorporation into the project;
  • Waste materials were separated on-site into bins in order to maximise reuse and recycling.

As a means of measuring outcomes and making the process of review and continuous improvement possible, data was collected and benchmarks were established. For monitoring purposes, waste materials were measured by volume, as both tip sites and waste removalists charge by volume.

Compared with landfill, the charge for taking waste to recycling depots was a minimum of 20% cheaper.

Recycled concrete, bricks and paper were purchased for use in the project. There was an 8% saving on paper costs alone. On site recycling of the metals, roof tiles, bricks and structural steel of the existing police, court and community buildings, is estimated to have saved $10,500 on waste removal.

Workers drank from mugs and used metal teaspoons instead of disposable cups and wooden stirrers. Dispensers were installed for coffee, tea, sugar and soap. Not only were there savings, but personnel also enjoyed using the more substantial facilities.

In ordering materials, the Fletcher team at Dandenong attempted to accurately estimate only the necessary amounts of materials required, rather than the traditional approach of ordering extra quantities to allow for wastage.

Instead of each consultant and contractor having a set of plans, each received the drawings on computer disk. Plans were reduced to a laser print size of A3 or A4 which proved not only to be inexpensive, but far more convenient than having a bulky roll of drawings. Savings were estimated at $25,000.

Recycled toner cartridges were used, but with less success.

Waste materials were separated and recycled wherever practical and economical. Waste volumes generated, the percentage of the waste stream recycled, and their treatment were as follows:

  • Plasterboard: the high percentage of plasterboard waste was directly related to the lack of flexibility in the delivery of required sheet sizes. No recycling plant for plasterboard exists in Victoria. Some plasterboard was stockpiled for a planned plant. Percentage of waste stream 19.6%. Percentage recycled 7.1%.
  • Cardboard: for packaging and office amenities, cardboard was recycled at a credit of 20 cents per kilogram. Percentage of waste stream 17%. Percentage recycled 78.8%.
  • General sweepings: mixed waste which was not considered cost effective to separate was cleaned up on a regular basis. Percentage of waste stream 15.2%. Percentage recycled 0%.
  • Excavated soil: excavated soil is usually a major component of landfill, but it was not evaluated for the pilot project because of difficulties in comparing different topographies. Topsoil was sold to nurseries. The remaining soil was used for road base or building up land in other Dandenong construction projects.
  • Timber: Fletcher requested timber in non standard sizes from its suppliers, rather than cutting it on site and throwing away the offcuts. Outlets for recycling are not well established. Percentage of waste stream 13.8%.
  • Percentage recycled 17.4%.
  • Metals: metals are easily recycled and offer a cash return, from 75 cents per kilogram for ferrous metals to $3 per kilogram for non-ferrous metals such as copper. Percentage of waste stream 9.5%. Percentage recycled 100%.
  • Plastics: many different types of plastic are used in construction. Separation is difficult because there are no large volumes of any particular type. Percentage of waste stream 6.9%. Percentage recycled 8.7%.
  • Concrete: 75% of tip fees were saved by sending concrete to the crusher for re-use as road base. In Sydney, 30% of the cost of concrete can be saved through the purchase of recycled concrete. In Melbourne, savings are only marginal on purchase costs due to an abundance of cheap quarry rock. Percentage of waste stream 6.7%.
  • Percentage recycled 80.6%.
  • Carpet: no recycling outlets for carpet were found, although they are common overseas. Percentage of waste stream 6.7%. Percentage recycled 0%.
  • Insulation: larger scraps of insulating material were taken by site workers for their own use. Percentage of waste stream 3%. Percentage recycled 30%.
  • Paper (first quality): first quality paper collected from site offices included computer paper and plan prints.
  • Percentage of waste stream 1.2%. Percentage recycled 100%.
  • Glass: all bottles from site amenities were recycled. Percentage of waste stream 0.4%. Percentage recycled 100%.

Advantages of the process

Results of the trial revealed substantial savings to the company and the environment. The total volume of waste was reduced by 15% and over one-third of the remaining waste volume generated was recycled. This meant that 43% less landfill space was consumed and financial savings of 55% were achieved on waste removal costs. No capital costs were incurred.

Mr McDonald was reluctant to put a total dollar figure on cost savings. He said that most waste occurs as a result of inadequate forward planning and inexact ordering of materials in the 'upstream' design and procurement phases. Failure to specify standard sizes in design or to accurately measure exactly what a project requires, inevitably lead to waste 'downstream', once construction has begun.

He believes that the secrets of success are forethought and accurately measuring the use of materials, enabling more precise estimates of materials required in future projects. As an example, he cited Fletcher's experience with the wasting of plasterboard on the Dandenong pilot project. By over-ordering in the procurement phase, Fletcher spent some $30,000 more than they should have on plasterboard for the project. Such savings only become apparent after the fact, when accurate measurement of the waste generated is put in place.

Cleaner production incentives

Fletcher embarked on the trial project after recognising that wasteful practices not only increased the company’s construction costs because of high waste disposal costs, but were also placing increased pressure on the environment because of the high volume of wastes sent to landfills.

As a result of the success of the pilot, Fletcher now sets down procedures to reduce waste at its source through each phase of all their construction projects on an Australia-wide basis. The company encourages clients to adopt ecologically sustainable development philosophies. 'We believe these will benefit their projects, reduce life cycle costs and exhibit their commitment to improving our environment,' says Bruce McDonald.


At first the project encountered skepticism from industry bodies. Once the Master Builders Association (MBA) understood that complex retraining was not required, they became supportive. The MBA in Ballarat is working to encourage all builders in the region to separate waste into timber, metals, masonry, plastics and plaster with centralised collection by recycling agencies.

With a second grant from the RRRC, Fletcher is studying new methods of eliminating waste at the design and procurement phases. Ongoing studies will be carried out through university research and the sponsoring of a masters student.

Fletcher has appointed a full-time project manager looking into Ecologically Sustainable Development principles with the responsibility for devising waste minimisation procedures. In Victoria, a graduate engineer will be employed to work full-time on implementing waste minimisation procedures on major sites. 'We'd expect employment in the area to grow as systems are improved around Australia,' says the project manager for waste minimisation, Bruce McDonald. 'Putting graduates in charge may well become a feature of Fletcher's larger projects.'

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