Resources, Waste and the Circular Economy

Construction and maintenance of our built environment, our homes, offices, schools, roads, railways etc, uses up the greatest volume of material resources, it also represents the largest waste flows by tonnage though in England and Wales over 90% of this is recovered mainly for use as aggregate.  However, five million tonnes of construction and demolition waste still finds its way to landfill.

At every stage of the construction lifecycle there are different opportunities for different professions to optimise the amount of materials used, to reduce waste and to reuse or recycle products, components and buildings. These opportunities are available to clients, designers, material suppliers, product manufacturers, distributors and construction and demolition contractors.  Reuse and recycling of products may lie within the waste management industry destined for other sectors than construction.

For new buildings, architects and designers can design for durability and future reuse, or for deconstruction and disassembly.  If waste cannot be avoided such as with the demolition of existing buildings then the objective is to follow the principles of the waste hierarchy and to keep products and materials at the highest level, i.e. in descending order of preference: preparing for reuse, recycling or recovery.  Some construction wastes are hazardous, such as asbestos or other legacy wastes, and the waste industry must deal with them according to the regulations.

For manufacturers, reducing waste within their own manufacturing processes is commonplace and is usually a win–win as it reduces costs and increases production capacity.  Once the product leaves the factory and becomes incorporated within a building or structure then its management until end of life becomes subject to the building owner decisions; will refurbishment happen before the end of life of the products, will a functional building be replaced by a more modern, high rise providing greater density.

Difficulties in managing resources for the longer term tend to arise where costs of doing work fall on one part of the supply chain but the benefits are gained by another part, especially where there are several intermediaries.   The built environment is a complex supply chain, so there are usually many intermediaries during a potentially lengthy lifetime of a building or structure.

For more information, please contact Jane Thornback.