What do you call soil from earthwork in construction— soil that may be remaining at some places, and that won't be used even after the construction project is finished?

I have two candidates: residual soil and surplus soil.

Which is the best for describing soil from earthwork in construction?

Or is there any other word?

Thank you for all.

I think I've described only one side of its characteristics.

In my case, the soil would be transported to another site or kept in stock yards for reuse.

I need the term which includes potential to be reused.


4 Answers 4


Consider three words:



remaining after most of something has gone



an amount that is more than is needed

Merriam Webster


something that remains unused or unconsumed

All have the meaning of remaining from an initial amount. Surplus has the additional association of not being needed.

Your soil is certainly residual from the construction.

Is it surplus? Many would reasonably say so but, because it was never needed (that’s why it was removed), I suggest residual is a slightly better word.

Also consider leftover, which merely states that it remains after the end of work, without any overtones of need.

  • Lexico has a more appropriate definition: << 1.2 ... remaining after the removal of ... a causative agent. ‘residual stenosis’ >> However, used alongside 'soil', there is confusingly a competing sense: << 1.4 (of a soil or other deposit) formed in situ by weathering. >> ' Jan 6, 2022 at 12:55

The most common term is excess soil. This can apply to soil that is reused on the same site, or hauled off. Surplus soil is also a common term, but is more strongly associated with soil that is sold off and hauled away. In construction, surplus tends to indicate something has a resale value.

Cut-Fill/Borrow/Excess/Dirt Balance: refers to how many cubic yards of dirt will be excavated, moved, placed and compacted on a job site. After the excavation (Cuts) are completed, the site may have too much dirt (Excess) or not enough (Borrow). Ideally, an owner wants to have a Balanced site to avoid the costs of hauling Excess off-site or buying Borrow material.


  • Supporting references (eg from the The International Journal of Concrete Structures and Materials )? Jan 6, 2022 at 12:57
  • @EdwinAshworth done.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jan 6, 2022 at 13:14
  • I wonder if OED picks up on these technical usages! Jan 6, 2022 at 15:53

Surplus is the right word as shown for example here on this Canadian government website.

There they refer to surplus earthwork material which includes more than just soil. I think the potential difficulty with 'surplus soil' is the alliteration but in context I think it will be fine. You may need to differentiate between 'fill' soil that you brought to site and surplus excavated soil that you removed.

Ciria has

Sustainable management of surplus soils and aggregates (RP1124)

but this and the Canadian government's site is more general. As Phil Sweet points out, once you decide you don't want it, excess soil is probably a better word. See the Ontaria govt. site title Handling Excess Soil with

Excess soil is soil that has been dug up, typically during construction activities. It must be moved off-site because it can't or won't be reused at the development site.

  • I agree with Anton that the more natural choice would be residual but I believe since we are talking in an environmental context residual has connections to chemical waste and might want to be avoided. Leftover is indeed better but sounds a little casual. How about excess ? Jan 6, 2022 at 9:30
  • 1
    Please add a relevant quote; I'd like to upvote. Jan 6, 2022 at 13:00

Where I live (upstate NY), at least, this would be called "clean fill," which can be used in other construction projects which require soil to fill some spaces and gaps. You'll see signs such as "Clean fill needed." People pay for it. It's okay if there are some rocks but if there's trash mixed in, then it's not clean fill. You'll also find "Clean fill for sale."

  • Supporting references (eg from the The Upper NY State Journal of Concrete Structures and Materials)? Jan 8, 2022 at 12:26

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