Reduce, Reuse, Recycle… How to Increase Sustainability in the Construction Industry

Story posted: 23.01.20

Over 35 billion tonnes of non-metallic minerals are extracted from Earth annually, mainly utilised to build homes, schools, offices and hospitals. This overwhelming level is set to rise as population increases.

Sustainable construction, industrial growth and resource efficiency are now visibly recognised by world governments and set at the head of strategy and policy.

A vital factor of UK government’s strategy covers the way CDW (construction and demolition waste) is managed. CDW comes from construction and demolition of buildings and civil infrastructure – one of the world’s heaviest generations of waste streams with 35% of global landfill made up of CDW.

The EU’s Waste Framework Directive was implemented in the UK in 2011 and intends to recycle 70% of non-hazardous CDW by 2020, encouraging the industry to process and reuse materials more sustainably. This directive favours preventive measures, for example, reducing use in the first place. Specifically to construction, the Sustainable Construction Strategy sets overall targets for diverting CDW from landfill.

Worldwide policies acknowledge this sector needs to take fast action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, tackle climate crisis and limit resource depletion, with focus on a circular economy approach. Instead of knocking buildings down and sending the CDW to landfill, circular construction would turn end of life components into resources for others, meanwhile minimising waste.

This alters economic logic, replacing production with sufficiency: reusing, recycling, repairing and remanufacturing. All while helping protect businesses against shortage of resources and unstable prices, creating innovative opportunities and efficient methods of producing and consuming.

The mindset of the industry needs to transform towards cleaner production of raw materials and better circular construction models. Technical issues such as price, legal barriers and regulations standing in the way of solutions must also be overcome through innovation.

Materials scientists are investigating and developing processed CDW to supply building components. Technical problems around reuse of recycled materials is in need of research such as water absorption in recycled aggregates causing durability problems. Additionally, it is illegal in the EU to use products not certified for construction. A main obstacle in the way of widespread reuse of materials, testing performance for certification can be expensive, cancelling out savings made from reusing them.

With the right attitudes, research and innovation towards reducing and recycling such resources, this is more than a step, but a leap into a sustainable future.


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