How to Design Out Waste in Construction - A 4-Step Waste Plan

The world is on a trajectory where waste generation will drastically outpace population growth by more than double by 2050. [1] At the same time, our natural resources are getting more scarce.

This complex issue is one we need to take urgent action on. We believe that design is at the heart of the solution.

Let’s explore why and show you how to design out waste.  

How to Design Out Waste in Construction - A 4-Step Waste Plan || StoneCycling
Long-format WasteBasedBrick®

Why Look at Waste?

We all produce waste on a daily basis. The global average of this so-called municipal solid waste (MSW), which consists of residential, commercial, and institutional waste, comes to about 0.74 kg per capita/day. [1] 

Construction and Demolition (C&D) waste materials consist of the debris generated during the construction, renovation and demolition of buildings, roads, bridges and other civil engineering structures such as utility plants, piers, and dams. The global average of this type of waste generation is 1.68 kg per capita/day. [1]

Materials include concrete, wood, asphalt, glass, plastics, bricks, metals, gypsum and salvaged building components such as doors, windows, and plumbing fixtures. This waste may compete with municipal solid waste for disposal space in landfills. 

Industrial waste is material that is rendered useless during a manufacturing process. It can range from dirt and gravel, masonry, concrete, metal and wood to chemicals, solvents, oil and even vegetable matter from places such as restaurants.  

The global average of industrial waste (produced when for example making building materials) is 12.73 kg per capita/day. [1]

As you can see, the trend shows that globally, industrial waste generation is almost 18 times (!) greater than municipal solid waste. The time for change is now.

How to Design Out Waste in Construction - A 4-Step Waste Plan || StoneCycling
Source: World Bank

"While it is difficult to give exact figures for waste produced on a typical construction site, it is estimated that it is as much as 30% of the total weight of building materials delivered to the site." — Bette K. Fishbein

Waste Management in an Urban World

Apart from these three types of waste streams, there is also agricultural, hazardous, medical and electronic waste, which we won’t cover in this article. But it is important to note that the generation of especially industrial waste rises significantly as income level increases. [1]

In a world that’s becoming increasingly urbanised (it is projected that up to 60% of the global population will be living in cities by 2030), it is clear that waste generation is one of the top problems we should solve.  

As we mentioned previously in our article about the Circular Economy, waste generation is a natural product of urbanisation, economic development, and population growth, but waste management is a critical – yet often overlooked – piece for planning sustainable, healthy, and inclusive cities and communities for all. 

How to Design Out Waste in Construction - A 4-Step Waste Plan || StoneCycling
Colourful Condo made from WasteBasedBricks® in Amsterdam

What To Do With All This Waste?

We’ve dedicated an entire article with eye-opening statistics about waste generation and waste management on a global, European and country-specific scale. You can read it here: 28 Incredible Statistics About Waste Generation.

If you read some of those numbers (by 2030 the world is expected to generate 2.59 billion tonnes of solid waste annually; 2018 saw 544 million tonnes of C&D waste generated in the United States, and 850 million tonnes across the European Union in 2019 – just to name a few), it might hard to imagine what governments do with all this waste. How, and where, do you process such vast amounts every year, every day, every hour? 

While the execution of waste management varies greatly per country, the most common treatment categories for waste are: 

  • Recovery (using waste to replace other materials which would otherwise have been used to fulfil a particular function e.g. recovering metals, oil, acids or bases, etc.) 
  • Energy Recovery (the main purpose is the generation of energy e.g. using waste as fuel)
  • Recycling (reprocessed waste materials into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes) 
  • Backfilling (using waste in excavated areas for slope reclamation or safety, or for engineering purposes in landscaping where the waste is substituting other materials which would otherwise have been used for this purpose)
  • Disposal (every other use of waste where there is no recovery e.g. use as landfill, incineration, release into a water body or permanent storage)
How to Design Out Waste in Construction - A 4-Step Waste Plan || StoneCycling

The Waste Framework Directive

The European Commission approved the “Waste Framework Directive” (WFD) in 2008, which introduces a clarification of the waste hierarchy, ranked according to environmental impact [3]:

  • Prevention (top priority)
  • Preparation for Re-use (checking, cleaning or repairing products or components of products so that they can be reused)
  • Recycling
  • (Energy) Recovery 
  • Disposal


It also requires that all Member States establish one or more “Waste Management Plans” (WMPs) covering their entire geographical territory.

One of the objectives of the WFD is to provide a framework for moving towards a European recycling society with a high level of resource efficiency. 

About 5% of global emissions are CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions generated from solid waste management. Without improvements in the sector, waste-related emissions are anticipated to increase from 1.6 to 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2050. [1]

How to Design Out Waste in Construction - A 4-Step Waste Plan || StoneCycling

Where Does Construction Waste Come From?

The amount of demolition waste in a given locality is usually much higher than construction waste and prevention or mining of waste during demolition isn’t always possible. 

When it comes to construction waste, it is much easier to follow the waste hierarchy, not only during the construction of new buildings – but during the future demolition as well. 

Construction waste can be generated during the pre-construction/planning phase, the design phase and the construction phase itself, examples of which include:


Planning phase

  • Incomplete (or errors in) contract documents/clauses 
  • Improper planning leading to operational waste due to for example time pressure
  • Building complexity 


Design phase 

  • Lack of knowledge about alternative products
  • Choosing low-quality materials
  • Wrong specifications of products
  • Lack of specific information on drawings
  • Making design changes while construction is already in progress
  • Misinterpretation of information that passes to contractors


Construction phase

  • Over/Under-ordering of building materials
  • Inadequate access to site for delivery vehicles
  • Damaged goods during delivery and loading
  • Inappropriate storage facilities at site / failing to provide adequate protection for materials
  • Throwaway packaging
  • Equipment malfunction
  • Accidents
  • Criminal waste due to damage or theft
  • Lack of supervision
  • Poor craftsmanship/errors by tradesmen 
  • Poor work ethics
  • Damages to subsequent works
How to Design Out Waste in Construction - A 4-Step Waste Plan || StoneCycling
How to Design Out Waste in Construction - A 4-Step Waste Plan || StoneCycling
How to Design Out Waste in Construction - A 4-Step Waste Plan || StoneCycling

Designing Out Waste

A substantial amount of construction waste is closely related to design errors [4], so architects have a big responsibility when it comes to waste prevention and waste management in construction projects. 

From the start of the design process, they set the direction and interact with clients, contractors and product suppliers. Without their commitment and advocacy for sustainable construction, waste prevention is unlikely to happen. 

From choosing sustainable products to proper material documentation (for possible future disassembly) and from supervision on the execution by contractors to making use of new technologies such as Computer-Aided Design (to make more accurate measurements reducing excess material waste), architects should implement a holistic approach to design and waste.

Create a Waste Plan in 4 Steps

On most construction projects, waste is not a priority. We’re here to change that! 

From our sample request and brick proposal to the order confirmation, sourcing waste materials, preparing the recipe, starting production all the way to order completion, transport and construction, at StoneCycling, we love to work out all the details together with our clients. Even after construction, we’ll stay in touch to follow the progress of the project closely.

In construction projects involving so many different people with different goals and ambitions, we believe it’s important to work together on the journey to realising the final design while minimising as much waste as possible.

Beyond the functionality of our products, we’re committed to prove that waste can be a resource that opens up a new range of beautiful and surprising forms, textures and colours.

Prioritising Waste Reduction

The need for alternative resources and production methods is an ever more pressing necessity that creates huge opportunities for all stakeholders in the value chain. 

To prioritise waste reduction on every construction project, we suggest architects think about waste early on in the design process: 


  • STEP 1 – Prepare a Waste Plan

By putting waste on the map, you clearly identify where potential problems lie in your construction project. 

Your waste plan could include an analysis of waste to be generated by materials and quantities along with an estimate of waste management costs. 

List the specific materials you’re planning to use and identify their targeted amounts for reduction, salvage, reuse, or recycling. A site visit is also advised for further documentation.


  • STEP 2 – Set Waste Prevention Goals

After you’ve made an incentivisation of all building materials, set up a timeline to identify when specific materials will be generated (everything from demolition rubble to the packaging of products). 

Based on this, set your waste prevention goals for the project, along with goals for specific materials and arrangements for storage, shipping, or reuse. 

After all: You cannot improve what you cannot measure. 


  • STEP 3 – Establish Waste Responsibility

Assigning clear responsibility for waste generation and disposal at the planning stage of a project will provide an incentive to reduce the amount of waste further in the process.

Who will be responsible for demolition waste? Who will provide dumpsters? Who will manage the materials for reuse, recycling, or disposal? Do suppliers offer returns of unused building materials? Who will keep a record of all the waste materials and where they will go? 


  • STEP 4 – Educate all Project Participants

From the client to the architect, and from the contractor to the facility managers, suppliers, and workers, by educating all stakeholders, you will increase awareness of the issues of waste and help realise your waste prevention goals.

In training sessions or brainstorms about project-specific waste prevention early on in the process, the behavioural changes needed to prevent waste will be promoted.

We should start to look more closely at the by-products of the construction and demolition process as secondary raw materials for construction. Because by choosing materials based on their possible re-use and recyclability, looking at source separation, selective demolition and designing for possible future deconstruction, many by-products can be diminished right from the design stage! 


And that is how you design out waste, by tracking site waste backwards and relating it to the associated design stage where it occurs to find solutions. Do you agree? Get in touch and let’s find out how we can work together on your next construction project.

Make sure to head over next to our article with 28 incredible statistics about waste generation at Global, US, & EU levels.


[1] What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050 – The World Bank, 2018 [read online

[2] Building for the future: strategies to reduce construction and demolition waste in municipal projects – Bette K Fishbein, 1998 [read excerpt]


[4] Potential for construction waste minimisation through design – M. Osmani, A. D. F. Price & J. Glass, 2005 [read online]