Recycling on construction sites in Finland
By: Oskari Mäkelä
Construction sites are a very common view everywhere. There is always a demand for building new or renovating old ones. The waste materials that are created in these processes should always be recycled, yet this is not always done. On every construction site there should be separate collection points at least for wood, metal, plastics, glass, and hazardous waste.
Finnish construction sites are required to follow the Finnish legislation on waste management called “jätelaki”, which states that the number one priority is to try to prevent creating waste in the first place. However, this is not always possible. Jätelaki also states that the waste materials should preferably be reused as raw materials and not converted into energy. Converting into energy in this case means burning and thus creating massive carbon emissions in order to get electricity. This legislation is very open to interpretation, and in the absence of clear statements in the law, it is tempting for companies to deal with the construction waste as they desire, which, especially in the case of smaller companies, is often the cheapest way possible. The cheapest way usually not being the most environmentally friendly option.
I have worked on several different construction sites and for several different companies in the past. My own experiences of this topic vary a lot between different construction companies. I personally feel that bigger companies are more likely to have their construction waste recycling well planned, while smaller ones either lack resources or interest. Bigger construction companies also have contracts with companies that rent waste collectors. They also have contracts with raw material buyers, which make it profitable for them to recycle their construction waste. The way I see it is that bigger companies are also more vulnerable to possible reputation loss that could be caused by handling their waste inappropriately. In general, construction waste is dealt with better on construction sites that build new than it is in most renovation cases. Also, bigger companies are usually the ones building new, while smaller ones are the ones that have plenty of small renovation sites.
The biggest issue that I have faced while working on this field of business was when I worked in a company that used a lot of different dangerous chemicals. Even though the chemical containers were labeled with “dangerous to environment” sign, they were thrown away with the regular waste, meaning that they would end up on landfills causing a serious threat to the environment.
All in all, there is a lot of room for improvement in the construction waste recycling business in Finland. The most important thing would be to create laws that would force even the smallest companies to start paying attention to this situation, followed with appropriate monitoring that could be funded by the government. Also, government could lend support money to smaller companies in order to get them started with recycling their construction waste. This loan could then be paid back when the companies start to make profit from selling waste materials to buyers.