Why Demolition for Reuse is an Essential Element in the Circular Economy

On a weekly basis we receive phone calls from governments, demolition companies, real estate developers, architects and individuals with the question if they can bring their demolition waste to us, so we can upcycle it into new and high quality building materials.

Unfortunately, waste is not simply just waste. It comes in a thousand varieties and qualities.

That’s why we work together with partners across the value chain (demolition companies, waste processing companies, construction companies, architects and real estate developers) to make sure that we’re getting the right type of waste in the right quality and quantity for our products.

In our search for the right type of waste, we came to the conclusion that it is still a challenge to find it and that this should change in order for a circular economy to become a reality.

Why Demolition for Reuse is an Essential Element in the Circular Economy || StoneCycling

Bring it down, cheap and fast

Everybody remembers how buildings used to get demolished: whatever way was cheapest within the legal framework in a certain jurisdiction, was the way to go.

We admit, it does look spectacular and is quite fast as well. But this type of demolition makes it difficult for companies like StoneCycling to reuse or upcycle the material in an effective way.

The demolition waste can be a mix of concrete, ceramics, glass, steel and many other materials. Sorting this material, if possible at all, makes it more expensive, decreases the quality and increases the chance of ending up in a landfill.

Bring it down so we can reuse it

Luckily more and more demolition companies are specialising in demolition for reuse or recycling. This means the demolition process is done in such a way that most materials are already sorted and separated at the time of demolition, before transport.

Yes, it looks less spectacular and takes more time, but ensures a much higher chance that companies like StoneCycling are able to reuse some of the waste streams coming out of these buildings simply because they are more clean and consistent. This increases the value of the material, and increases the chance of it being recycled or upcycled.

Demolition former CBS building - Voorburg, The Netherlands

The cleaner the waste stream, the more valuable it becomes to other companies and the higher the price we are willing to pay for it.

Who’s paying?

For any real estate developer, demolishing a building is a cost factor. They want to spend as little money as possible on this part of the project. Money is made from the new building, not the old one.

The longer it takes for the new building to be completed, the longer the return on investment takes, so time and cost are strong drivers for the selection of a certain method of demolition. From this perspective, there are very few incentives to do more than strictly necessary, unless governments demand it.

How to shift towards demolition for reuse?

Governments play an important role in ensuring more sustainable demolition, which allows for high quality reuse or upcycling.

A good case study is the Municipality of Amsterdam’s mission to become 100% circular by 2050. As part of this mission, the city is including demolition for reuse as a requirement in the tenders for new real estate projects or building permits within the city.

At project “Edge Amsterdam West“, this principle is already becoming a reality. Some of the waste materials coming from the renovation are currently being upcycled by StoneCycling into a new WasteBasedSlip® that will be used for the interior wall cladding of the new building on the same site.

Following this example, for each new building that is being built, there is a chance to make sure it does not need to be demolished at the end of the lifetime, if it can be disassembled.

Why Demolition for Reuse is an Essential Element in the Circular Economy || StoneCycling
Carefully sorting and testing waste streams in the StoneCycling laboratory

Recycling construction and demolition waste will become a primary factor in enabling a circular economy for the decades to come.

How to shift from demolition to de-assembling?

In our opinion, the best and most efficient way of demolition for reuse is to not demolish a building at all. The keyword here is to disassemble: construct a building in such a way that at the end of the lifetime it can be taken apart without destroying the elements it is made of.

There are a few factors that are important to achieve this:

What is the building made of?

Knowing the ‘ingredients’ of a building is a requirement for reusing it at the end of the life-cycle. The Cradle to Cradle movement sets clear ambitions on what materials can be used in which way to allow for disassembling.

The material passport

To make sure that we know from each building, even 30, 60 or 100 years later, what it is made of, it is important to keep track of all the data. On top of that, raw materials are scarce and must therefore be well documented so that they remain unlimited.

The Dutch initiative Madaster is a digital library and generator of so-called ‘material passports’. These are records of materials linked to a specific building. With the passport, materials get an identity, which means that they can never disappear in anonymity as waste.

This independent platform, that describes themselves as “the cadastre for materials” is accessible to all: individuals, businesses and governments. Further efforts to connect these databases with for instance BIM are currently being investigated.

As you can imagine, we are following these industry developments closely and our R&D department will keep you updated with our latest innovations. Make sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter to be the first to hear from us!

This video provides a short and comprehensive introduction into the Cradle to Cradle concept:

Introduction to Cradle to Cradle