Over the past few years, trusts have placed growing pressure on contractors to improve their sustainability credentials and significant progress towards setting minimum requirements for recycled content in the health sector has already been made.

Construction is the UK's biggest generator of waste, contributing more than 100 million tonnes each year. At the same time, it is one of the largest consumers of materials, annually accounting for over 400 million tonnes.

The health sector has a responsibility as a major construction client to take measures to reduce the materials impact of building or redeveloping new hospital sites. NHS trusts have the greatest opportunity to drive change by setting requirements in tender briefs and contracts.

Trusts can make a difference

Over the past few years, trusts have placed growing pressure on contractors to improve their sustainability credentials and significant progress towards setting minimum requirements for recycled content in the health sector has already been made.

The recommended target is for at least 10 per cent of the total value of materials used on construction projects over£1m to be derived from recycled and reused content.

The Scottish Executive has requested that all public bodies set this requirement in tender specifications and contracts, and the Northern Ireland Central Procurement Directorate has issued similar guidance. Welsh Health Estates has adopted a KPI and target for a minimum 15 per cent recycled content in its framework contracts for all major hospital projects in Wales.

Similar action is being taken elsewhere in the public sector,.for example in the secondary schools renewal programme in England and in prison building.

By setting minimum requirements, the health sector is able to demonstrate commitment to achieving environmental policy goals and landfill diversion.

For trusts with policy targets to meet for sustainable development, setting requirements for materials recovery and reuse is an easy and importantly, measurable step to take. The requirements also stimulate demand for the products and materials with higher recycled content which, in turn, diverts recoverable materials from landfill and makes recycling more economic.

A step further

There is much that trusts can do to really make a difference to the environmental impact of a build. By looking closely at all areas of the construction process with sustainability in mind, significant results can be achieved in reducing demand for energy, water and material resources, as well as demonstrating the green credentials of the trust and its supply chain.

By setting a requirement for contractors to consider products that have an above-average level of recycled content, trusts undertaking construction projects can make easy, quick wins in terms of sustainability. Simple product substitutions of standard construction products including aggregates, blocks, insulation, flooring and ceiling tiles can increase the percentage of recycled content significantly, using hundreds or thousands of tonnes of recovered materials (per project) that might otherwise go to landfill..

There is also the opportunity to make cost savings through the procurement of locally-sourced materials, such as recycled aggregates from the reprocessing of site demolition materials. These can replace crushed rock in substructure and preliminary building works, as well as roads and car parks..

These mainstream products, and many more besides, are readily available at no extra cost and are manufactured to UK quality requirements.

The Waste & Resources Action Programme provides advice to support the public sector in setting and delivering against the most suitable minimum requirements for their construction work. The organisation provides free-of-charge resources including: procurement guidance; exemplar wording for tender documents; an online recycled content toolkit to help designers and contractors assess the potential recycled content of a project (see www.wrap.org.uk/rctoolkit); and a searchable and downloadable guide to construction products with higher recycled content.

David Moon is programme manager for construction procurement at WRAP.

To find out more about improving sustainability in construction through procurement and better use of materials, visit www.wrap.org.uk/construction