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?


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”.

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:

Concrete wash-out

The washing out of ready-mix concrete lorries on construction sites after delivery of each load is a common occurrence, normally being carried out in a designated “wash-out” area, or, on more crowded sites, into a purpose-built wash-out unit. This unit separates the solid materials from the washout water, and treats the separated water to reduce its alkalinity before discharge to a foul sewer under a trade effluent discharge consent. Whilst many sites accept this as the norm, it is not the only solution, nor in many cases, the most environmentally-friendly one.

The Environment Agency offers guidance how washwaters should be managed on site in their Regulatory Position Statement (“Managing concrete wash waters on construction sites: good practice and temporary discharges to ground or to surface waters“). In Appendix 1 (good practice guidance) the Agency clearly advise that “As far as possible concrete mixing or delivery lorries should return for washout to the batching plant with only chutes being washed out on site.” This is repeated in the EA’s “PPG6: Working at construction and demolition sites” which again states that ready-mix lorries should return to the batching plant for washing out. (Section 7, p.41: Essential pollution prevention).

Clearly, there are benefits to this approach for the contractor, who doesn’t have to allocate space and manage a washout point on site or the waste arising from its use, nor is there standing time for vehicles using (or waiting to use) the wash-out point on site. And, as the majority of mix design codes around the world permit a percentage (typically 5%) of suitable recovered materials to be used in subsequent concrete mixes, returning the 1% – 4% of concrete that remains in the drum after discharge to the plant appears to make economic sense for the batching plant too.

Steelfields washout reclaimerA recent press release by Hanson UK (11 September 2012) refers to two new concrete production facilities in Glasgow noting: “In addition, a water reclaimer allows returned materials and wash-out from trucks to be separated. The solids – mainly sand and aggregate – go back into stock for reuse and the water is filtered and pumped into the supply tanks.” Clearly, batching plants are increasingly prepared for this approach, and are making use of the returned materials, with batching and mixing plant manufacturers such as Steelfields offering wash-out reclaimers as standard equipment.

However, to make batching plant wash-out a workable solution, two conditions have to be met:

  1. The site has to be close enough to the batching plant to ensure that the lorry can return and wash-out (or reload with an identical mix) before the residual concrete starts to set. The rule of thumb to meet this condition is normally maximum 20 minutes return travel time between the plant and site. (But see also 7 March 2014 addendum at bottom!)

  2. The lorry has to be able to return to the batching plant without losing any of the concrete remaining in the drum or chute onto the public highway – hence the EA recommending that the chute is washed out on site.

The first of these is clearly dependent upon the relative location of the plant and site, and the traffic conditions between the two whilst deliveries are taking place. If the travel distance between the two is too long, there is nothing to be done – wagons must be washed out on site or the residue will begin to harden inside the drum.

Until recently, meeting the second condition has been more problematic, with returning lorries losing small but troublesome quantities of concrete onto the road, not only creating uneven road surfaces once set, but also the risk of cracked windscreens and damaged paintwork for other road users whilst still fresh – and consequent insurance claims for the ready-mix suppliers. To minimise this risk, the EA recommend washing out the chutes only before returning to the batching plant, but even this requires a wash-out point on site.

Concretesock montageToday, however, not even this is necessary, thanks to the development of  Concretesocks – simple inexpensive closures that fit over the end of the delivery chute before returning to the batching plant – sealing the end of the chute and completely eliminating the risk of loss of material on the roads. And, on fast turn-around sites, wash-out becomes unnecessary except at breaks as the vehicle can return and refill before the previous mix has begun to set – reducing waste and making more productive use of the delivery vehicle – and in doing so, reducing costs.

So, given that batching plants are increasingly able to reuse materials from washing out delivery mixers, and loss of materials on the roads no longer need be a concern, why are contractors still using (and paying for) concrete wash-out points, or even expensive washout plant, on construction sites close to batching plants?

7 March 2014: At the invitation of Karl Goff, the inventor of the Concretesock, I subsequently had an entertaining and enlightening chat with “Brian the Driver” who has been using this product every day for over 2 years now, and who happily “rolls for an hour” without washing out when returning the the batching plant, “feels naked” if he doesn’t have a sock on the chute when travelling on the roads – and typically gets an extra load a day in as he just reloads with the same mix without washing out at all … just once at the end of the day!

BPS Eco offer a full Construction Environmental Manager service to construction sites

More Information

The Waste Hierarchy

The obligation on all waste producers to apply the Waste Hierarchy to their waste was formally introduced into UK legislation through Regulation 12 of the Waste (England & Wales) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/688) on 29th March 2011. (Click on the link below to see the Regulations in full)


The requirements of Regulation 12 are as follows:

Duty in relation to the waste hierarchy

12.—(1) An establishment or undertaking which imports, produces, collects, transports, recovers or disposes of waste, or which as a dealer or broker has control of waste must, on the transfer of waste, take all such measures available to it as are reasonable in the circumstances to apply the following waste hierarchy as a priority order—

  • (a)   prevention;
  • (b)   preparing for re-use;
  • (c)   recycling;
  • (d)   other recovery (for example energy recovery);
  • (e)   disposal.

(2) But an establishment or undertaking may depart from the priority order in paragraph (1) so as to achieve the best overall environmental outcome where this is justified by life-cycle thinking on the overall impacts of the generation and management of the waste.

(3) When considering the overall impacts mentioned in paragraph (2), the following considerations must be taken into account—

  • (a)   the general environmental protection principles of precaution and sustainability;
  • (b)   technical feasibility and economic viability;
  • (c)   protection of resources;
  • (d)   the overall environmental, human health, economic and social impacts.

From 28th September 2011, Regulation 35(d) has required all Waste Transfer Notes to contain a legal declaration confirming “that the transferor has discharged the duty in regulation 12” and requiring the transfer note to be signed by both parties.

For the construction industry (at least, for larger projects over £300,000 in value) a Site Waste Management Plan compliant with the 2008 Regulations should, if properly completed, provide sufficient proof that the Regulation 12 Duty has been discharged should it ever be questioned.

But what of other industries and businesses that produce waste? How many businesses have written a Waste Management Plan for their premises to ensure they comply with the requirements of Regulation 12?

Or, more to the point, how many businesses have recognised the true cost of the waste that they throw away ( http://wp.me/p1CMrv-e4) and taken steps to improve their efficiency by looking at the resource use and waste disposal to reduce their costs and improve their profitability. So instead of regarding preparation of a Waste Management Plan as “just another chore”, why not take the opportunity to improve your business and reduce your costs as well as complying with legislation?

I offer a full Waste & Resource Management service based on process mapping, addressing the waste hierarchy, and including the preparation of site-specific Resource Management Plans for industrial & manufacturing premises – http://wp.me/P1CMrv-36

Resource efficient drainage?

Working on a Sustainable Drainage Strategy for a new industrial building recently, “resource efficiency” in drainage design snuck into my mind. The details of  how and why aren’t important, but at the end of the day the site ended up with a far reduced drainage scheme – permeable block paving replacing both the concrete service yard and tarmac car parking, leaving only the roof as impermeable. And all the roof drainage collected at high level by a syphonic system before discharging immediately adjacent to the attenuation tank.

Which left a very “lean” below-ground surface water drainage system – just an attenuation tank (less than half the size proposed in the Flood Risk Assessment) with its inlet & outlet manholes, and a small diameter drain connecting this to the outfall manhole. And no other underground surface water drainage on the site at all – hence my “resource efficiency” thoughts.

Obviously, replacing the concrete yard with permeable paving eliminated its associated drainage system, petrol interceptor, attenuation tank etc, so there’s an obvious “efficiency” there, and at the end of the day the block paving could be taken up and reused, so a “plus” there too. But it was our preference for putting in underground drainage systems around buildings for roof drainage that really made me think – why do we insist in getting rainwater below ground at the earliest opportunity? Have you ever seen components of a below-ground drainage system recovered for reuse? Neither have I.

The obvious way to minimize the underground drainage system is to collect the rainwater together at high level and bring it to a suitable discharge point before dropping it down to ground level. (Syphonic drainage systems are well established now, so this doesn’t mean huge gravity drainpipes hanging from your roof!)  So what are the resource efficiency benefits of this approach?

  • Material use – Because syphonic systems can carry far more water than a gravity system in the same size pipe, overall the pipework is smaller.  And no manholes either, or pipe bedding & surround.
  • Adaptability – Above ground systems are assembled from components which can be dismantled and reassembled into different arrangements if needs change. Below ground systems are fixed rather than flexible – they can only be extended or re-routed (and any unused bits abandoned).
  • Maintainance – Above ground systems are visible and readily accessible for maintenance, repair or replacement. Below-ground systems by their nature are difficult & disruptive to get at if they fail.
  • Recovery / reuse – Above ground systems are generally made of metal or high-grade plastic, which has significant value and a ready market. At the end of the life of the building an above ground system WILL be dismantled and recovered for reuse or recycling. Below ground systems are rarely reused when a site is redeveloped, or even minor components recovered for reuse

And, not directly “resource efficiency” issues, but worth also taking into consideration:

  •  Waste – Fewer trenches = less excavation = less arisings to dispose of.
  • Groundwater – Fewer trenches mean less need for dewatering operations on sites with high groundwater tables
  • Soil impact – Fewer trenches mean less disturbance of the ground, so less risk of “soft spots”.
  • Site management – Fewer drainage trenches mean safer access and easier traffic management around the site

So, remind me – Why exactly do we prefer underground drainage systems?