Circular Economy in Construction Industry

In a previous blog article we discussed the importance of circular economy principles in manufacturing industries such as packaging. In this article, we would like to explore the importance of circular economy in the construction and building industry.

Why is implementation of circular economy model in the construction industry important?

Construction and buildings have a significant impact on global economy and quality of life. To carry out its activities, the construction industry requires a vast amount of resources and materials. Due to inefficient use of resources, the industry’s practices have had a significant impact on our environment.

The global construction industry consumes up to 40% of all raw materials extracted from the lithosphere.[1] It is responsible for nearly 50% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.[2]

In the European Union, the construction sector consumes nearly 40% of the region’s total energy.[3]  It is responsible for over 35% of the total waste generation in the EU.[4] Large quantities of the waste generated cannot be reused or recovered, eventually ending up in landfills. The industry accounts for 36% of GHG emissions in the EU.[5]

Despite construction industry’s current environmental impact, it has the potential to prevent further impact through adoption of circular economy principles. According to European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), emissions could be reduced by 80% if materials were more efficiently used.[6]

The European Green Deal recognizes construction as a key sector which can contribute towards Europe’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) has identified the potential to increase material efficiency and reduce emissions in the construction industry which can significantly reduce current environmental impact. The CEAP further states this can be carried out through the Strategy for a Sustainable Built Environment.

This strategy aims to promote circular economy principles in construction industry and ensure integration between policy areas such as energy and resource efficiency, construction & demolition waste (CDW) management and climate change.

 

As part of this strategy, the EU aims to:

1. Revise the Construction Product Regulation for creation of sustainably designed products with low carbon footprint. A recycled content requirement could be introduced, encouraging use of more recycled materials in the product while ensuring the same quality, performance and safety conditions.

2. Use the “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” approach for product design and waste management. Construction Demolition and Waste shall be managed more efficiently with new recovery targets.

3. Implement Life Cycle Assessment in public procurement

4. Increase energy efficiency through optimized lifecycle performance and increased durability and lifetime of buildings

Material choice can facilitate improvements in material efficiency and reductions in GHG emissions. Construction materials that are designed to be produced in an energy efficient manner, to last long and to be reused can make a difference.

Some examples of such construction materials that are increasingly being used today are:

1. Clay Plasters

Clay and clay plaster are some of the oldest building materials in the world. In ancient times, many cultures around the world used colored clay plaster in interiors of stone buildings and caves. Clay plasters have received a renewed interest in recent years for its Earthly qualities and low environmental footprint. Clay is a naturally abundant material and clay plasters require comparatively low energy to manufacture as they do not require processing, only blending.[8]

Clay plasters are also a preferred surface finish material for walls and ceilings due to its non-toxic properties. The clay minerals in the plaster are able to absorb odors and pollutants, keeping the air clean.[9]

Moreover, they have excellent moisture-handling properties which help regulate humidity inside homes and keep stable room temperature. Due to non-toxic and good moisture-handling properties, they provide breathability to the finish.[10]

Clay plasters do not set chemically unlike other plasters, they dry easily when applied.[11] They are flexible, require minimal maintenance and last long with an expected life span of 60 years.[12] At the end of its life cycle, clay plasters are still recyclable, reusable and biodegradable. This makes clay plasters a good example of building materials with circular design. Combined with beautiful and aesthetic textures, these factors allow clay plasters to improve quality of living inside homes.

2. Green Concrete

Green concrete is concrete that replaces a portion of cement with alternative materials.

Cement is a key component used in manufacturing of concrete. Every year, over 4 billion tonnes of cement is produced and accounts for 8 per cent of global CO2 emissions.[13]

In green concrete, the cement sand is partially replaced with certain industrial waste which ensures the same strength while lowering environmental impact. Such industrial waste can include fly ash, slag (waste product from steel mix) and quarry dust.

By replacing cement sand with industrial waste in green concrete, carbon emissions and energy consumption are reduced, whilst the durability and strength of the concrete is maintained. In certain green concrete products, carbon emissions were reduced by up to 50 percent.[14]

3. Straw Bale

Similar to clay plasters, straw bale is a traditional building material which has received a renewed interest in modern times for its sustainable characteristics. Certain modern architects such as

Werner Schmidt from Switzerland, specialize in multi-storey ecological building solutions which utilize load bearing straw bale constructions.[15]

Straw bales are made from a leftover waste product. After the edible part of grains are harvested, leftover stalks that are generally disposed of by farmers are bailed to make straw bales. Straw is a renewable product and its primary energy source is solar.[16] 

In the form of straw bales, they gain a new life. Straw bales consume less energy compared to other materials such as fiberglass and synthetic wool.[17]

Straw bales can be used to construct both carcass walls for heat insulation purposes as well as load-bearing walls which bear the weight of the roof. Straw bales have high insulation qualities which allow them to keep the building warm in winter and cool in summer. If maintained properly, straw bale buildings may have a lifetime of up to 100 years.[18] At the end of its life cycle, straw bales are biodegradable and can be rendered back to earth.

Packaging

Packaging plays an important role in construction industry’s activities. It is used for storing, selling and transporting construction materials. To reduce waste and maintain circularity in its practices, the industry requires reusable packaging. At the end of its life cycle, the packaging should also be recyclable or biodegradable.

 Horizon Armor® paper bags for construction products are fully recyclable, reusable, renewable and biodegradable. These bags are engineered to have robustness and long lasting protection for industrial packaging.

 Made by Horizon, a reliable paper manufacturer.

 

References:

[1] Bonoli, A.; Zanni, S.; Serrano-Bernardo, F. Sustainability in Building and Construction within the Framework of Circular Cities and European New Green Deal. The Contribution of Concrete Recycling. Sustainability 2021, 13, 2139. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13042139

[2] Bonoli, A.; Zanni, S.; Serrano-Bernardo, F. Sustainability in Building and Construction within the Framework of Circular Cities and European New Green Deal. The Contribution of Concrete Recycling. Sustainability 2021, 13, 2139. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13042139

[3] Bonoli, A.; Zanni, S.; Serrano-Bernardo, F. Sustainability in Building and Construction within the Framework of Circular Cities and European New Green Deal. The Contribution of Concrete Recycling. Sustainability 2021, 13, 2139. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13042139

[4] Circular Economy Action Plan. (2020). European Commission.

[5] Bonoli, A.; Zanni, S.; Serrano-Bernardo, F. Sustainability in Building and Construction within the Framework of Circular Cities and European New Green Deal. The Contribution of Concrete Recycling. Sustainability 2021, 13, 2139. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13042139


[6] Circular Economy Action Plan. (2020). European Commission.


[7] RP (2020). Resource Efficiency and Climate Change: Material Efficiency Strategies for a Low-Carbon Future. Hertwich, E., Lifset, R., Pauliuk, S., Heeren, N. A report of the International Resource Panel. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, Kenya

[8] Clayworks. Sustainability. [online] Available at: https://clay-works.com/sustainability/.

[9] https://www.kivira.fi/Esite/conluto/Clayplasters.pdf

[10] Clayworks. Sustainability. [online] Available at: https://clay-works.com/sustainability/.

[11] https://www.kivira.fi/Esite/conluto/Clayplasters.pdf

[12] Clayworks. Sustainability. [online] Available at: https://clay-works.com/sustainability/.

[13] Lehne, J. and Preston, F. (2018). Making Concrete Change: Innovation in Low-Carbon Cement and Concrete. [online] London: Chatham House. Available at: https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/publications/research/2018-06-13-making-concrete-change-cement-lehne-preston.pdf.

[14] Skanska – Global corporate website. 2019. Making better mixes: Low-carbon and circular concrete | Skanska – Global corporate website. [online] Available at: https://group.skanska.com/media/articles/creating-better-mixes-low-carbon-and-circular-concrete/.

[15] Atelier Schmidt GmbH. [online] Available at: https://www.atelierschmidt.ch/.

[16] Paul Downton. 2013. Straw bale. YourHome. [online] Available at: https://www.yourhome.gov.au/materials/straw-bale.

[17] Säästvad Ehituslahendused. STRAW-BALE BUILDING. [online] Available at: https://www.ehituslahendused.ee/services/straw-bale-building.

[18] Paul Downton. 2013. Straw bale. YourHome. [online] Available at: https://www.yourhome.gov.au/materials/straw-bale

 

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