End of the cam?

Valve actuatorI spotted an article recently about moving away from mechanical cam-driven valves on engines to computer controlled rapid acting “electro-hydraulic-pneumatic actuators” permitting far more precise control of valve movements without the “part open / part closed” stage of their mechanical counterparts. Why is this innovation important? Simple – it appears to offer a 16-17% improvement in fuel efficiency at a stroke – or to put it another way, a potential 16-17% reduction in CO2 emissions from transport (and any other engine-driven process) if it was adopted worldwide.

Steam engineWhich reminded me about “cams” and changing technology- especially as I have one on my desk as I write this! In my youth (well, for my Engineering Workshop Theory and Practice A-Level) I made a vertical D-slide double acting steam engine which uses a cam to control which side of the piston receives the steam, and which side is open to atmosphere. Because of this, the piston drives in both directions, rather than requiring the flywheel to drive the piston back to the top for older single-acting cylinders – at the time a major improvement in steam engine technology. And, in time, this very simple mechanical gizmo made its way into petrol & oil engines as a simple way to control valve movements, and now, for the first time in literally hundreds of years, we’re now seeing a step-change on the technology.

And made me wonder. Given that a move from a simple but commonly used mechanical system to a precise electronic system can radically alter the fuel consumption of the engines of potentially every car, lorry, bus, boat, ship … etc in use on the planet, where else could a bit of lateral thinking make big changes to our efficiencies, resource use, waste, and emissions whilst permitting us to continue to enjoy our tech-rich lifestyles?


Invasive Rhododendron – what’s in a name?

14d5da19ea8-98dbced4df5ccbfc2462b56473d9542c.1400Rhododendron ponticum is the name commonly used for the invasive purple rhododendron frequently found growing wild in the British countryside. In itself, a nice shrub in its season, but it has the ability to spread by seeds or layers and can regrow from roots or small parts of the stem so it is difficult to eradicate. On acidic soils in areas with high rainfall, it spreads rapidly, and can quickly form a ground-covering monoculture, smothering native species. It has also recently become a susceptible to a number of toxic fungi, which then spread with it to infect woodlands, leading to greater efforts to eradicate it.

As a result of this, Rhododendron ponticum appears in Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, making it an offense to cause it to grow in the wild – an obvious precaution against further spread. But WACA 1981 also makes it an offense to offer the plant for sale, or to possess viable plant material (including seeds) for the purposes of sale – a major problem for garden centres up and down the country who all offer R.ponticum varieties as garden plants.

As a result effort has been made to try to differentiate the invasive plant from the garden varieties, with Cullen in 2011 suggesting that the invasive plant was a “hybrid swarm” to which he ascribed the name R. x superponticum. However DNA testing has revealed that the common UK invasive plant is derived from the wild native populations of R. ponticum in the Iberian Peninsula (which shares its propensity to spread) and distinct from the native  R. ponticum population in the Caucasus (which does not spread as freely) and from which many of our non-spreading garden varieties have been developed.

On the basis of this finding, it has been suggested that the invasive Rhododendron common in the UK (and also found in the Iberian Peninsula)  is named Rhododendron ponticum spp. baeticum, making it distinct from the garden varieties bred from Rhododendron ponticum spp. ponticum (the Caucasus species), neatly solving the legal tangle of the species being sold in the garden centres. Hopefully, if this distinction becomes widely recognised, WACA 1981 Schedule 9 will be updated with the specific name, and the issue of it’s sale in garden centres will finally go away!

Just as a footnote, it’s worth remembering that before the last Ice Age, R. ponticum was widespread as a native plant in the UK and much of northern Europe, and it’s only with the changing climate as the ice advanced that it was eradicated from our shores. Had not the changing sea levels submerged the land bridge as the ice retreated, we might now be considering this population to be a “troublesome native species” rather than the “invasive non-native species” it is now branded!


Recycling Spot Rates (June 2016)

When I run waste masterclasses and other courses, I often talk about recovering asset values of materials, and invariably this ends up with people asking me where to find current scrap rates. As it can sometimes be quite a challenge to find these, here’s my own occasional snapshot of the UK scrap market (in order of value):

  • Copper (clean, bright) – £2500 per tonne
  • Mixed brass (clean, bright) – £1600 per tonne
  • Old brass and copper – £1200 per tonne
  • Insulated “ring main” cable (45% copper by weight) – £900 per tonne
  • Lead – £900 per tonne
  • Aluminium (new, bright) – £650 per tonne
  • Insulated “data” cable (25% copper by weight) – £650 per tonne
  • Old aluminium – £600 per tonne
  • Stainless steel (318) – £570 per tonne
  • Plastic film (LDPE / HDPE, clean, “natural”) – £320 per tonne
  • Plastic film (LDPE / HDPE, clean, printed or coloured) – £190 per tonne
  • Paper (clean sorted office collections) – £140 per tonne
  • Plastic film (mixed, printed, 10% contamination) – £90 per tonne
  • Cardboard (clean, mill bales) – £80 per tonne
  • Heavy steel scrap – £75 per tonne
  • Cast iron (radiators etc) – £70 per tonne
  • Light steel scrap – £35 per tonne
  • High grade wood (clean solid wood) – minus £35 per tonne (pay to dispose)
  • Low grade wood (contaminated, boards) – minus £60 per tonne (pay to dispose)

The more value you can recover by segregating at the upper end of the list above, the less your waste disposal will cost you overall.

Pallet Recycling and Reuse

Pallets 01 600BIn the construction industry, a huge number of pallets get thrown into skips simply because sites don’t know just how easy it is to return these to productive use. It’s not necessary to ring around and try to get someone to pick them up – one phone call is all it takes to get them collected and returned to their original users / suppliers through the Scott Recovery pallet repatriation service. This is how it works:

  • Collect together a minimum of 30 pallets – mixed sizes, sound or damaged.
  • Ring 0800 282488 or email collection@scott-elm.com

… and that’s it. They’ll come and collect on their next round. No fuss, no bother. Done.

UKCG Environmental Training Standard

The UKCG Environmental Training Standard  was published in July 2015, and recognises the leadership role that UK Contractors Group member companies play in driving best practice within the construction sector. It sets down the minimum training expected for individuals to undertake their roles on member’s sites to be able to demonstrate their competency through formal environmental training, including the CITB SEATS course.

This document sets down the standard of environmental training applicable to those who manage, supervise or undertake construction related activities as follows:

Site Managers (including those employed by supply chains):

  1. CITB SEATS+ Course (SEATS plus additional management modules); or
  2. A comparable external course approved by the UKCG Environmental Training Task Group; or
  3. An internally developed course that can demonstrate training outcomes comparable to 1 and 2 above.

The training must last a minimum of TWO DAYS, include a form of assessment, and a completion certificate. Refresher training must be carried out at intervals not exceeding five years.

Site Supervisors (including those employed by supply chains)

  1.  CITB SEATS Course; or
  2. A comparable external course approved by the UKCG Environmental Training Task Group; or
  3. An internally developed course that can demonstrate training outcomes comparable to 1 and 2 above.

The training must last a minimum of ONE DAY, include a form of assessment, and a completion certificate. Refresher training must be carried out at intervals not exceeding five years.

Site Operatives (including those employed by supply chains)

A relevant competency scheme card including the CITB Health Safety & Environment Test where required, and renewed as necessary.

Note – in July 2015, the UKCG and NSCC (National Specialist Contractor’s Council) merged to form Build UK. A list of the members of the new body can be found here

Thoughts on a flat-packed wardrobe …

Just before Christmas, I assembled a flat pack wardrobe for my daughter, and it got me thinking about waste, or rather non-waste.

I was impressed. We ordered it over the internet, picked our day and a four hour delivery slot (10-2). The day before, the courier reduced this to a two hour slot (10-12), and on the day a text informed us that delivery would be within the hour, which it was. And at 11.30am, two packages totalling 88kg (big wardrobe with drawers …) were sitting on the floor ready for assembly. Unpacking took a while, with a small mountain of cardboard wrapping & polystyrene spacers set to one side. Not one scratch, ding, chip, mark … at all. Four poly bags of fittings, 319 items in total. By 5.30pm, it was fully assembled, in position, doors aligned, and safety-fixed back to the wall. And all that was left over was four poly bags. The fittings were exact. None missing, none left over. Spot on. Exactly what I needed, no more, no less.

(One beef, oh flat-pack-furniture industry … why polystyrene? Why not blocks of corrugated cardboard that can go into the recycling bin instead of the landfill bin? Just a thought … )

So, what impressed me? Well, firstly; I got what I wanted, when I wanted it. With excellent communications so that I could be at my daughters at the right time, and not waste any of my day sitting twiddling my thumbs wondering where it was, when it would arrive, or whether it would even arrive that day at all. Secondly, it arrived in good condition, carefully handled, with the right amount of packaging to ensure nothing was damaged or missing. No having to argue about delivery damage, or getting replacements. And thirdly, all 319 parts that were delivered fitted somewhere. They all went in … I had nothing whatsoever left over. They had confidence in their take-off & packing systems: nothing extra delivered “just in case”.

And in the New Year, I’ll be back on construction sites again, looking at all the surplus materials delivered “just in case”, lying forlornly in the rain and snow, and destined for the skips at the end of the job because they’re too heavy/awkward/tatty to take to use somewhere else. And I’ll be walking around picking up (as you do) all the screws/bolts/widgets strewn around the floor and putting them back into their nearby boxes. And thinking about my wardrobe experience. And the 120 million tonnes of waste that the UK construction industry generates every year.

The waste that costs an average project about 0.5% of the project value to dispose of. The waste that if you look at it properly and think of it’s true worth, really costs a project 10x-20x it’s disposal cost. (How much did you pay for the things you’re throwing away, their delivery, storage & handling on site, and eventual movement to the skip?) In other words, the waste in your skips, rather than being a minor consideration, represents 5-10% of extra profit, or improved competitiveness. And I know many Commercial Managers in the industry who would sell their grandmothers for a tiny slice of that. (Bet you smiled … because you know it’s true.)

A thought: The construction industry contributes about £100 billion a year to the UK’s GDP. What’s 5-10% of that?

Back to the wardrobe & the things I learned. It is possible to have just what you want, delivered just when you want it, adequately packaged and in good condition. We know that consolidation centres and just-in-time deliveries work for construction projects, but these are the exception rather than the rule as soon as you move away from congested city centres, but why? Isn’t it time to spend some of the £5b – £10b we waste every year embedding this approach into the industry so it becomes the norm everywhere rather than the exception? I have no doubt it would pay dividends immediately if properly done. And stop a lot of waste.

It’s time to stop talking about “recycling”, and “zero waste to landfill” as aspirational targets – these should now be the norm. It’s now time to start talking about completely removing waste from the construction process – just “Zero Waste”.

Polymer flocculation

Discharging turbid water with excessive levels of suspended solids is a serious problem for construction sites, particularly if it enters stormwater drains or a natural water body as it can seriously degrade the habitat of fish and other aquatic life, or cause silting and increase flood risk. As a result, to do so is an offense under UK legislation. However, whilst coarser particles can be readily removed by filtration or sedimentation, finer particles will often remain in suspension with the slightest water movement making them very difficult to remove without treatment.

Turbidity in water is measured using a nephelometer, which passes a light beam through a sample of water, and measuring the scattering at a detector set at 90 degrees to the source, reported as “Nephelometric Turbidity Units” or NTUs.

Flocculation is the process of using chemical agents (flocculants) to bind together small soil particles into larger ones (flocs) that are heavy enough to settle to the bottom of the liquid for removal. Introduction of positively charged (cationic) polymer macromolecules into turbid water attracts the naturally negatively charged clay particles, clumping into a floc having sufficient mass to sink to the bottom of the liquid. However, although cationic flocculants are highly effective in isolated systems, their positive charges make them toxic to aquatic organisms when dissolved in water, and they should NOT be used when runoff could enter stormwater drains or open-water bodies.

Anionic polymer flocHowever, anionic polymers, which carry a negative charge (like clay particles) are not toxic, and if added to stormwater together with positive calcium ions (Ca++) to form ionic bridges, anionic polymer flocculation will take place, reducing the turbidity of the treated water without harming aquatic life. Once the flocs have formed, provided the flow rate is sufficiently low, they should settle to the bottom of the water body ready for removal.

For polymer flocculation to be effective on site, three fundamental process must take place: chemical binding, settlement, and floc removal. To bind particles, polymers can be applied directly to soil surfaces, to water flowing in a collection channel, or into a settling pond, either through impregnated jute mats, hand or mechanical spreading of dry polymers, or direct application of liquid polymers. Following treatment, the objective is then to reduce the velocity and erosive force of the water by allowing it to spread out over a relatively level area, aided by perpendicular wattles, silt fences, and impregnated jute matting. Once settled, the sediment can be removed for reuse or disposal, and the now-clear water discharged to stormwater systems or open-water bodies.

Modern Slavery Act 2015

CSLz17PUwAAw4f4This may be a strange thing to see on my website as slavery was abolished nearly two centuries ago, but anti-slavery groups estimate that between 21 million and 38.5 million people are trapped in involuntary employment. With the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act, the UK Government is requesting (not “requiring“) companies to take steps to ensure slave labour is not used in their supply chains. The legislation was passed in March, is likely to come into force in shortly (exact date to be confirmed following consultation) and applies to companies with a revenue in excess of £36m.

The purpose of the act is to require larger businesses to be transparent about what they are doing to address this global issue. It requires any commercial organisation supplying goods and services wholly or partly in the UK with a turnover in excess of £36m to produce a Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement for each financial year. The statement must be approved and signed at the highest level, for example by a Board of Directors, and must be prominently displayed, for example on a corporate website, so it is visible to interested parties, members of the public and NGOs.

A Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement must describe the steps the organisation has taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in any part of it’s own business or in its supply chain. This statement may incude information about:

  • The organisation’s structure, it’s business and its supply chains
  • Its policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking
  • Its due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains
  • The part of its business and supply chains where there is a risk of slavery and human trafficking taking place, and the steps it has taken to assess and manage that risk
  • Its effectiveness in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business and supply chains, measured against such performance indicators as it considers appropriate
  • The training about slavery and human trafficking that it makes available to its staff.

Interestingly, businesses could comply with the legislation by publishing a statement that they are doing “Nothing”, although this approach risks attracting negative stakeholder, public, and media attention …

(Image copyright Liz Ackerley, with thanks. Click on the image or visit her blog here)

Concretesock News – Laing O’Rourke

Concretesock Laing

Browsing through Laing O’Rourke’s Annual Review 2015, I came across this interesting little snippet on page 80:

“We have successfully implemented ‘concrete socks’ on a number of projects. These fit over the ends of concrete wagon chutes and negate the need for wash-out facilities on site. This not only saves money but significantly reduces the risk of environmental incidents. We will now look to extend usage across the business”

A little birdie also tells me that 19 socks are also successfully in use by Lafarge to service a major ISG contract in Sinfin, Derby …

Looks like this brilliant but simple idea I’ve been writing about for a couple of years is finally finding it’s feet.

Earlier articles by me on Concretesocks:

Great crested newts – a new approach

Great crested newtA pilot project is currently underway in Woking that may herald major changes to the way great crested newt conservation is undertaken in the UK, minimising cost and disruption to development sites under the present restrictive system whenever newts are present in the area.

The trial, being undertaken jointly by Natural England and Woking Borough Council, aims to identify to size, location and connectivity of newt populations in the area by testing for trace newt DNA in pondwater. This new survey technique will be used to produce a local conservation plan for the newts, linking up and protecting the most important populations, specify where new habitat should be created to ensure a healthy overall population, and identify areas where development will have least impact. The Council will then put the new habitats in place so that when development results in habitat loss, habitat gains will already be in place to compensate.

Speaking of the new proposals, Andrew Sells, Chairman of Natural England, said:

“This innovative pilot in Woking is an exciting opportunity that I hope will bring significant benefits for conservation. The current licensing system for European Protected Species in England is quite a rigid way of protecting great crested newts, placing the emphasis on individual newts, rather than the species as a whole. By making the system more flexible and strategic, it will enable us to establish habitat for great crested newts, where their populations will most benefit from being in a wide network of habitat, rather than being squeezed in around development. Alongside creating strongholds for great crested newt, this ground-breaking approach will streamline the delivery of much-needed development and lift constraints on the layout and design of development land.”

…. Go to the original CIEEM article