Business Tips

Construction Pollution

How to decrease construction pollution across your job sites

From our oceans to our apartment complexes, it’s an unfortunate fact that pollution is all around us. Luckily a sizable part of all pollution and overall environmental degradation can be reversed, slowed down or eliminated entirely with the right steps and procedures. The construction industry has a big part to play when it comes to eliminating unnecessary waste and reducing greenhouse gases. In fact, every year in the US alone, there are 44,000 buildings and over 200,000 homes demolished. Close to 90 percent of the materials are recyclable, but less than 30 percent of the waste from these demolitions is ultimately recycled.

Close to 90 percent of construction materials are recyclable, but less than 30 percent of the waste from these demolitions is ultimately recycled.

Diving deeper, there are four main types of polluting that take place on construction sites: gas emissions from diesel-powered vehicles and heavy machinery, trash left from workers and contractors, noise pollution from equipment and water pollution from job site runoff. While some things are certainly out of the average business owner’s control, such as creating quieter tools or more fuel-efficient machinery, there are concrete steps every business owner can take to make their company a little greener. Here are a handful of them.

Reduce vehicle idling time.

In 2015, EPA rules (Environmental Protection Agency) designed to curb smoke, smog, soot and other pollutants from diesel engines across the country were put into place. With the passing of the legislation, fuel efficient equipment labeled “Tier 4 equipment”, which operated with advanced engines that cut hydrocarbon emissions by 86 percent, would be the only heavy machinery allowed on US job sites.

Even with these new terms, though, there are still substantial unnecessary gas emissions on construction sites from machinery with diesel engines. To offset this, reduce your idling time as much as possible. In addition to saving you in fuel costs, you’ll also be limiting the amount of carbon sent into the atmosphere.

Create strict clean-up policies.

Construction sites come in all shapes and sizes. Some are remote, with little access to restaurants and restrooms, while others are in the middle of booming metropolises. A few things never seem to change though—one being that with many workers packing their own lunch, trash often gets blown away or is tossed to the side. On your construction site, have a strict clean-up and garbage disposal policy in place to avoid the potential of trash becoming litter. This will keep job sites and the neighborhoods they’re being built in clean and litter-free.

In the United States alone, over 530 million tons of construction material waste was created in 2014.

Properly dispose of waste.

In the United States alone, over 530 million tons of construction material waste was created in 2014. Although close to 90 percent of this amount is recyclable or reusable, it’s often sent straight to the landfill. At your job site, kickstart a culture of properly disposing of waste where you can. While not all aspects of clean-up might be controllable as a contractor, any effort to become more green will be a step in the right direction. Plus, many local recycling centers will pay you for recycled construction materials. This is in addition to the money you’ll save if you reuse materials—helping your bottom line.

Consider modular construction.

How do you eliminate much of the air pollution, litter and runoff left on a construction site? Eliminate or decrease the amount of time spent on a construction site. One way to speed up and streamline the construction process is to consider modular construction, which McKinsey recently found to deliver projects anywhere from 30-50 percent faster than traditional methods, on average.

Modular construction is a process where pieces and structures are built off-site in manufacturing plants before being transported to the job site—different from standard construction models where everything is built by crews on-site. Full disclosure: this style of construction does require a high upfront cost to assemble the pieces needed to build. But you also use less materials when you’re building the same size modules over and over.

Limit job site runoff.

Across job sites, there is a large amount of runoff caused by diesel fuel, loose debris, paints and other commonly used materials. This often leaks into the local water supply, from rivers to lakes to reservoirs. To prevent or lower water pollution on your construction sites, try your best to cover up all drains, decrease land disturbance so surrounding soil remains firm, and gather the runoff water before it escapes the job site and limit the use of toxic materials where you’re able to.