Building an average new house generates about nine tonnes of waste. Across Australia one authority estimates 250,000 cubic metres of building waste are sent to landfill each year while another expresses the quantum as 8.5 million tonnes. Globally the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that buildings account for 25 per cent of all solid waste.
A zero-waste house would therefore make a big contribution to the environment. Victorian builder Burbank and the centre for design and society at RMIT University with funding from Sustainability Victoria have come within 1 per cent of that goal. Burbank has built Victoria's, and possibly Australia's, first zero-waste house at Melton on the outskirts of Melbourne – actually it's 99 per cent waste-free after recycling.
The approach was a combination of lean ordering, recycling and reuse. Design strategies such as changing the type of bricks and roofing materials reduced waste by 72.4 per cent or 6603 kilograms. Management of waste reduced material going to landfill by another 2492.4kg. Only 30.8kg ended up going to the tip.
The waste management strategies included non-acceptances of overdeliveries, return of packaging to suppliers, and delivery of sand in bulk bags that were later used to separate recyclables.
RMIT says reduction of waste generation in residential construction – described in a federal Department of Environment report as "traditionally adverse to behavioural change" – faces several challenges.
These include the culture of oversupply, improvement in materials, onsite separation for recycling, the economic viability of recyclate collection and consumer choice of materials.
"We believe we can as an industry build a no-waste home," Burbank's Frank Perconte said. "With current technology we can almost build a Meccano set type home where it's all prefabricated and then delivered to site."
That was too futuristic for the industry "so what we said was 'let's have a look at what the current building practice is' and we can have a short-term gain".
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