Addressing Waste in Commercial Interior Design

Explore the pressing issue of waste in commercial interior design. Learn about its environmental impact and proactive solutions, emphasising collaboration, circular design, and material specification strategies.

The problem

It is estimated that 32% of landfill waste comes from the construction and demolition of buildings, and 13% of products delivered to construction sites are sent directly to landfill without being used”- Circular Economy Wiki.

Clients are facing shorter lease timelines due to economic pressures, over the course of a building the interior may get re-fitted out every 5 years and the most harmful materials ending up in landfill are usually false ceilings, plastic LVT flooring and ‘fast’ furniture.  

“£11bn are spent on waste every year in the UK construction industry, accounting for 3.5 million tonnes of Co2 emission”BRE Group.

The environmental implications of not reducing waste are adding to landfills, thereby increasing harmful air pollution and ecological harm to nearby habitations as well as resource depletion and waste costs to clients.  

We often encounter challenges in waste reduction, this can include meeting client demands, opening transparency with contractors and supplier chains, time dedicated to finding recyclable and reusable materials, and promoting industry education. More regulations and industry standards are necessary to address waste in the long term.

Solutions

Designers have the responsibility of minimizing material specification wherever possible. The key lies in integrating waste reduction strategies into every stage of our design process. Our focus must be on design for circularity. Here are a few key considerations:

  • Collaboration and communication with suppliers, clients, and contractors: We can work with clients to set targets to reduce waste, question supplier chains and work with contractors to adhere to the WRAP (waste and resource action plan) recommendations.

  • Discuss existing site materials and condition: What can be re-used? Can we keep an existing carcass and re-clad? Can we use the existing layout to achieve the client's needs? Can we use the existing systems in place, HVAC, lighting, electric’s etc.  

  • Design to eliminate future waste: By designing for longevity, ease of repair and maintenance, flexibility, and adaptability. At the end of life we can think of deconstruction, demounting and reusability of the design for future building uses.

  • Specification for finishes and materials: Avoid composite products difficult to be recycled, think of durability and longevity. Specify cradle to cradle, supplier collaboration transparency and using EPD information for low carbon emissions.  
  • Discuss the end-of-life expectations with the client and the project team: The brief should establish the approach to longevity, future changes of use, and deconstruction/disassembly. Suppliers may have ‘give back’ schemes to recycle their products.

Embracing these solutions will shift us towards embracing circular design principles and more sustainable practices. Clients, designers, contractors, and suppliers are recognizing the importance of environmental consideration, leading to greater collaboration and innovation in waste reduction efforts and where there are educational gaps, we will continue to share our resources, educate, and commit to waste reduction targets set within our own practice.  

StoneCycling do a fantastic piece on waste in the construction industry, you can read it here

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