Eco Innovation

Excavation and demolition arisings: waste or resource?

12th February 2024
Paige West

It would seem simple. Some construction sites have an excess of material, others have insufficient. So why can’t they simply exchange these materials?

It would be the most sustainable option; avoiding landfill and potentially, unnecessary quarrying of primary aggregates. The Environment Agency and numerous NGO’s actively promote such approaches, and there are a number of mechanisms by which the exchange of surplus materials can take place. But the practice is not as widespread as it should be, largely due to a number of pitfalls surrounding these activities.

Risk – legal, commercial, and reputational

Waste is heavily legislated and the very definition of waste is something the construction and demolition industry has grappled with for some time. ‘Waste’ producers must understand and accurately describe the material such that receivers can make a sound judgement on whether they can (or cannot) accept the material or usefully recover/recycle it. It is also incumbent on the receiver to accurately describe and evidence what materials they can legally accept. With obligations on both parties, who is there to police the activity? Furthermore, in an ideal world the exchange would be commercially amicable; with potentially no value attributed to the waste/resource. Again, the reality is somewhat different, it is classic supply and demand and dependent upon local market conditions the very same material could be a valuable resource one day and a costly waste the next, and of course there will be a real cost associated with physically transporting the material. Rarely would either party feel like they are getting best value, and of course there is a credit risk. Finally, whilst the potential positive green press is excellent, if an unscrupulous participant does not act appropriately, the negative press and costs could be very damaging to either party.


The construction industry is the largest waste producing sector in the UK, and whilst typical construction wastes (i.e. builders skips etc.) are usually managed directly by the main contractors the greater waste contribution (i.e. excavation and demolition wastes) often become the responsibility of a subcontractor. Our research has indicated that the excavation and demolition waste contributes approximately 90% by tonnage and 60% by spend of all construction waste. Subcontractors are not always independent, they may have arrangements with preferred partners or be receivers (or aggregate producers) themselves and therefore may not offer the exchange opportunity. In addition, whilst the task of waste management may be delegated, the responsibility cannot, and Best Practice encourages producers to take control of their wastes from cradle to grave.

Multiple mechanisms

Depending upon the specifics there are up to 7no. possible legal routes for movement of excess materials between sites. The material can be classified as a waste, a ‘non-waste’ or reclassified as an aggregate. Some mechanisms require detailed paperwork while others need little more than a reciprocal declaration. There may be a perfectly suitable match to be made, but both participants may be looking for the ‘wrong’ partner mechanism.


How do participants know what material is available (or what requirement for material there is), where one another are, the relevant timings of material movement, contractual terms, haulage logistics, reporting responsibilities etc. Certain static listings exist with limited detail on the actual materials or any commercial framework around a potential deal.

One solution was developed by two former site engineers who faced all the problems mentioned above and felt the technical complexities alongside the legal and commercial pressures faced by most construction projects could be addressed more efficiently. The premise was to provide a live database of waste or resource producers and receivers and create an online service for them to trade. Waste-a-base was born and was very well received by the industry. Since launching in 2010 the service was continually enhanced its service based on feedback from construction contractors. Waste-a-base provides visibility to all participants and a contractual framework to allow commercial terms to be agreed. Beyond this Waste-a-base is positioned at the centre of the transaction, and is the only party either side has to contract with, allowing legal and commercial risk to be managed in a simple and uniform way. Recently the service has been built upon to allow material transfer via any legal route (including Code of Practice, WRAP Quality Protocols etc.).

The result is a simple yet intelligent service which finds the optimum solution for both parties whilst ring-fencing risk, controlling the deal, and providing all necessary paperwork. Quotes can be sought on a no obligation basis and the wide network of options called upon (delivers cost savings typically of 20-30%) and improved recycling rates routinely.

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