Governments must be ready to help construction sector go green

Scott Brewster

By Scott Brewster, MD of Brewster Bros, a resource management business which specialises in recycling construction waste and creating high quality recycled aggregates based in Livingston.

With COP26 into its second week, sustainability and net zero remain high on everyone’s agenda. However, long before the UN’s climate change conference, Brewster Bros took a more sustainable approach to construction waste.

Since 2018, we have helped the construction industry save over 500,000 tonnes of construction, demolition and excavation waste from landfill. From waste we have created more than 400,000 tonnes of recycled products and prevented 12,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions from being leaked into the atmosphere. Importantly, this has also helped customers save over £1.3m on landfill tax and £800,000 on the aggregates levy.

A key factor in our recent win at the VIBES Scottish Environment Business Awards was that we practice what we preach. We have installed solar panels to power our recycling plant with renewable energy, as well as switching the fuel source for our fleet of trucks and mobile plant machinery. These are now powered by a form of biofuel called Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO), helping us reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90%.

Some of these operational changes have been at our own expense. While this is our investment choice, given the focus on climate change, I am disappointed the UK government has not done more to incentivise such practices, like reducing the duty on HVO. Biofuel is currently taxed at the same level as fossil diesel, a contradictory approach in my view.

In April, the rebate in place that reduces duty for red diesel and biofuels will be scrapped, meaning our heavy plant and machinery will incur the same duty rate as on-road vehicles. With no electric or hydrogen machines of this size currently on the market, UK government ministers must surely know there is no greener alternative fuel for our machinery than biofuel. No wonder the reform is met with cynicism from red diesel consumers and labelled a ‘tax grab’.

Incentivising the switching to biofuels should make a huge difference to take up. For businesses, it is a switch that can be made immediately without engine modifications or infrastructure investment – a contractor could simply fill their excavators with diesel one day, then biofuels the next. While we wait for the technology for electric and hydrogen machinery to become available, the next logical step is to support the uptake of biofuels.

The Scottish Government is working on a waste targets route map and I am pleased to be participating in its working group. The new plan will demonstrate how Scotland will meet waste and recycling targets for 2025 and identify how the waste and resources sector will contribute towards Scotland’s journey towards net zero from 2030.

While there is a focus to reduce the well known, higher polluting forms of waste such as plastics, there is a huge opportunity to reduce soil and rubble – the materials that make up 70% of construction waste.

Granted, soil and rubble are not the most environmentally harmful forms of waste, but it is the low hanging fruit. So much of this ‘resource’ continues to be wasted in low value backfilling/recovery operations, but the Scottish Government could easily reduce landfilled volumes and preserve natural resources with recycling incentives.

Looking ahead, it is likely that new forms of green legislation and taxation will be introduced and it is therefore vital that businesses are in a position to meet new building standards and planning regulations, while avoiding paying any new environmental taxes.

We are ready for what governments might soon be asking of us, but there are clear opportunities for more support and incentives to supercharge sustainability and help achieve net zero.