Circular Economy in Construction
Today we’ll dive into the issue of the relevance of the circular economy in construction and show you practical examples from our own circular building material production at StoneCycling.
Read more about sustainability in construction and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in our previous blog.
Main Problems of Our Current Economy Model
DEPLETION OF NATURAL CAPITAL
Our global economic growth has been fueled by the increased use of raw materials and natural resources.
Natural capital is being transformed into other forms of capital – but we’re growing so big, so fast, that it is quickly depleting the very same natural capital on which it thrives.
A THROWAWAY CULTURE
As humans, we have developed a ‘throwaway and replace’ culture: we take, we make, and we dispose of. But this linear economy simply isn’t a sustainable model. The supply of resources is finite and often produces (toxic) waste. This just cannot work long term.
While our energy demand and the combustion of fossil fuels remain a major resource challenge, our wrong- and overuse of materials and resources is arguably even a bigger one.
The UN-supported TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) concluded that two-thirds of the environmental damage actually comes through materials, versus one third through the wrong use and overuse of energy.
Aim of the Circular Economy
The Circular Economy is a “make/remake – use/reuse” model.
The aim is to radically limit the extraction of raw materials and the production of waste. It does this by recovering and reusing as many of the products and materials as possible, in a systematic way, over and over again.
The system diagram above illustrates the continuous flow of technical and biological materials through the ‘value circle’ in the circular economy.
StoneCycling is on a mission to redesign the way the construction industry uses building materials.
Economy and Construction Inspired by Nature
In the living world, there is no landfill, instead, one species’ waste is another species’ food. Energy is provided by the sun. Things grow, die and nutrients return to the soil. This is the inspiration for the Circular Economy.
At StoneCycling, we’ve always called waste “raw materials” (or “food”, if you like, our sustainable building products have tasty names such as ‘mushroom‘ and ‘radish‘, after all).
Most materials can be used as input for new building materials as long as they are kept pure, as long as they are designed for disassembly and reuse and as long as we have tracking systems in place that allow us to identify what it is once they have passed through the first use cycle.
In some of our recent projects, CROSSOVER, CBRE and DOK1620 in Amsterdam, buildings have received a materials passport (Madaster). This way, when the building will be permanently demolished at the end of its life, the materials can be reused again. This way, we can keep the materials at their highest value at all times.
Building Resilience Through Diversity
Here at StoneCycling, we’re on a mission to redesign the way the construction industry uses building materials.
That said, we like to make it clear that the Circular Economy isn’t about ONE manufacturer changing ONE product. It’s about ALL the interconnecting companies that form our infrastructure and economy coming together.
It’s about rethinking the operating system itself.
Just as how greater biodiversity supports the overall health of a natural system at a time of shock, in an economy, a nation or a company can also derive greater value from diversity by sharing strengths and having a greater pool of resources to draw on.
This is why we need to think more in systems. We need as many partners as possible in the value chain to work together on creating effective flows of materials and information, powered by renewable energy.
We understand that innovation can be difficult for companies, especially in the construction industry, where most processes are established and change is slow, but remember that there are 3 billion new customers entering the market in the next 20 to 30 years… [source: Ken Webster]
These customers will put enormous pressure on the resource base if we continue along with our current, linear ways. Without large-scale business involvement, the transition to a Circular Economy simply will not take off.
The built environment sector is one that offers a huge potential to adopt smarter, system-level approaches, creating better economic and social outcomes.
A Word (Or Two) About Waste
Waste generation is a natural product of urbanisation, economic development, and population growth, but solid waste management is a critical—yet often overlooked—piece for planning sustainable, healthy, and inclusive cities and communities for all.
By 2030 the world is expected to generate 2.59 billion tons of solid waste annually. And as we said in the introduction of this article, by 2050, this amount is expected to rise over 31% to 3.40 billion tons.
Digging further into the statistics from the 2018 report from The World Bank (just to show you how serious this problem is), the trend shows that globally, industrial waste generation (12.73 kg/capita/day) is almost 18 times greater than municipal solid waste (0.74 kg/capita/day).
Construction and demolition waste generation account for 1.68 kg/capita/day.
Only 19% of this waste undergoes materials recovery through recycling and composting, 11% is treated through modern incineration, but the majority of waste is disposed of in some type of landfill (37%) or openly dumped (33%). The problem is also that industrial, construction and demolition waste often competes with municipal solid waste for disposal space.
And on top of that, about 5% of global emissions are CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions generated from solid waste management.
Without improvements in the sector, solid waste-related emissions are anticipated to increase from 1.6 to 2.6 billion tons of CO2 equivalent by 2050 if no improvements are made in the sector.
Changing the Construction Industry
Circumstances in the world have changed in recent years, and so must our economy. At StoneCycling we believe that this change will be fueled by technological disruption. This will fundamentally redefine our ability to use resources and create prosperity out of them.
The built environment sector is one that offers a huge potential to adopt smarter, system-level approaches, creating better economic, environmental and social outcomes.
We need abundant clean energy, a circular material system where materials are used over and over and over again or they are safely returned to the biosphere and a high-productivity regenerative system with higher utilisation of resources and better integration of products into existing systems.
But we also need to take a long view. How do buildings change 30, 40, and 50 years from now? How can they be changed and dismantled to turn into new buildings over time? What kind of materials do we use and how do we put these buildings together? How can we bring people and technologies together in ways that are mutually beneficial?
In future articles, we will explore the concept of the circular economy in the construction industry further and will show you how our design process and remanufacturing contributes to a better world.
We believe that with creativity and innovation, we really can rethink and redesign our future.
Do you believe the same? Then join our mission, share your own thoughts about this complex subject and let’s discuss how we can work together!