Cleaner Production - Recycling of Demolition Materials
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Lightning Property Services
Cleaner Production - Recycling of Demolition Materials

Due to the commitment of Phil Watkins and his team at Lightning Property Services, 72% of waste material from four office strip outs was diverted from landfill and a cost saving of $4,550 was achieved. Phil is actively seeking markets for the recycling and reuse of demolition and other waste


Phil Watkins was previously the general manager of an engineering company and in 1996 acquired Lightning Rubbish Removers, a general waste removal company, which was operated as a sideline initially. After doing an MBA in business, Phil decided to set up on his own and changed the firm's name to Lightning Property Services. While still providing a general waste removal service in the Melbourne area, in 1999 Phil recognised and started developing a niche market for one-off waste removal from commercial properties in the CBD. High levels of business activity, office refurbishment and equipment turnover in this area has been generating large volumes of waste, much of which has gone to landfill. Increasing landfill disposal costs and large volumes of potentially reusable or recyclable materials led Phil to look for markets for wastes as well as providing a stripping and removal service.

Lightning now has 5 full time employees, 14 casuals and its services have been such demand that it is quoting 3 jobs a day, ranging from small jobs at around $3-4 k to large jobs around $100k.

Besides his own company's initiatives, Phil promotes good practice in the building and demolition industry through his own efforts and working with the Waste Management Association.

Activities and processes

Lightning removes diverse wastes from commercial, educational, government and other properties. Wastes can include office equipment such as photocopiers, office services equipment such as electrical, lighting and heating equipment, building waste and general rubbish.

As jobs have become larger and potentially more hazardous, particularly in large stripping and demolition jobs, the firm has increasingly cooperated with WorkSafe Inspectors in order to ensure safe working practices and compliance with health and safety regulations to protect workers, customers employees and the public. As part of this process the firm has developed health and safety training and procedures for its employees and sub-contractors. Job safety analyses are carried out before jobs start and personnel briefed on requirements.

Some materials are potentially hazardous to health, for example asbestos in older buildings, synthetic mineral fibres (fibreglass), and PCBs in fluorescent light fittings. Lightning's people are trained to identify and correctly handle such material.

All wastes are transported to waste transfer stations, licensed waste disposal contractors or recyclers as appropriate to the quantity and type of waste.

Cleaner production initiatives

In September 2000 Lightning property Services was contracted to strip out four 1200 m2 office floors in the Melbourne CBD. Possible end markets were investigated for the waste materials in order to gain costs savings from not having to dispose of them to landfill. Phil used various resources and networks to find other businesses that would accept the materials generated from the strip out. One of these resources was EcoRecycle Victoria's publication "Guide to Recycling Services in Victoria". Other sources included the EcoRecycle Victoria ( ) and OnSite web sites.

Typical office

Typical office with partitions

For jobs such as this the bulk of the material is glass and plasterboard from partitions, and metals from frames, cables, pipes and fittings. For some materials  such as steel and aluminium, reprocessors will pay for the scrap metal so it is beneficial to separate the waste. There is now a market for plasterboard waste- the gypsum is used in agriculture to help break down clay soils, while the paper component, when composted, provides biological material for the soil. For glass and other materials providing markets proved more difficult.

Staff at Lightning were trained to separate all of the salvaged materials. These materials included workstation desks, internal walls made from aluminium frames  and plasterboard, glass panels, doors, carpets, underlay and light fittings. Contamination was minimal. Where contamination was evident it was generally due to other contractors disposing of food packaging or electrical cuttings into the material stockpile. The waste was then re-sorted and transported for disposal or recycling

Office during stripping

Office during stripping - plasterboard prominent

Advantages of the process

In the strip-out contract described here 72% of materials were reused or recycled as follows:



 All timber (jarrah parquetry, work desks and doors) 128
 Aluminium wall frames 12
 Plasterboard 108
 Steel 64
 Commercial kitchens 15
 Zone roughen and laminated glass 90
 Carpet underlay 80

The volume of materials that went to landfill was approximately 192 m, consisting of fibreglass, ceiling insulation and other hard waste, for which no end markets were identified.

The cost savings were as follows:

Material Waste minimisation activity Cost saving $
Commercial kitchen  Donated to charity for reuse 100
Glass  Reuse in pool fencing -685
Aluminium  Recycled into new aluminium 2955
Steel  Recycled into new steel 770
Plasterboard  Recycled into gypsum 530
All timber  Reprocessed into mulch or for reuse 420
Carpet and underlay  Reprocessed into mats 460
Total   4550

The outcomes of the project demonstrated the benefits of separating waste materials for reuse and recycling purposes. It also highlighted that opportunities to divert waste to landfill are dependent on staff participation, commitment to finding end markets and proximity to recyclers and reusers.

Timber waste for recycling

Timber waste for recycling

Ducting for recycling

Ducting for recycling

Cleaner production incentives

Besides Phil's commitment to good environmental and waste management practice, this initiative was driven by Phil recognising a good business opportunity.


The main barrier Phil encountered was the lack of an accessible and up-to-date  single source information on potential markets and customers; also a reluctance from suppliers and the market to accept some materials such as plate glass which is as good as new. There remains a need to change practices and mindsets. one difficulty in this instance is the difficulty for non-specialists of transporting and handling plate glass

Further initiatives

Phil is continuing his efforts to find and encourage markets and develop good practice. In the case of glass and other materials he continues to talk to suppliers, scrap brokers and others.

In Lightning's own activities, Phil continues to develop improvements. For example, instead of PCB-containing fluorescent tubes all being landfilled as hazardous waste, as is normal practice in Australia, he has researched into and initiated US practice. PCB-containing components are removed and placed in 25 L spill-proof containers which, when full, go for disposal as hazardous waste. The glass and steel components are then recycled. A 6m load of light fittings generates about a litre of PCBs so that disposal cost savings are significant.


Phil Watkins
Lightning Property Services
PO Box 2177
East Ivanhoe VIC 3079
Mobile: 0418 331 979
Date of implementation: 2000 - 2001.
Date of further initiatives: Ongoing.
Case study prepared: July 2001 by Centre of Excellence in Cleaner Production, Curtin University of Technology, based on a case by EcoRecycle Victoria
Date last modified: July 2001.