Ever wondered what happens to all your stuff when you throw it out? A lot of it – from sauce sachets to mobile phones – ends up in landfill or gets burned. Or it ends up in our environment, causing damage to the natural world on which we depend.
600,000 Tonnes of Floor Covering Goes to Landfill Each Year in UK – What Can We Learn from Holland?
An ArcelorMittal steel plant. Photo courtesy of ArcelorMittal
Despite the recycling success, however, the steel industry is increasingly facing pressure to decarbonize. Recycling steel is still both energy- and cost-intensive, and both steelmakers and their customers must go further to reduce environmental impacts. One way to do this is to shift to a reuse model.
As British architect Spencer de Grey of Foster + Partners has remarked, “…with the increasing pressure of sustainability, of survival on this planet, we need, at all times, to be making the best use of what is already built. So, the challenge I think for today, is to find ways of bringing new life to those buildings.”
The government needs to go further with its circular economy plans if the UK is to reduce its waste and make a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to engineers from the University of Sheffield.
Adding circular economy principles to the planning process would put greater emphasis on retrofitting buildings, designing for adaptability, deconstruction and reuse of materials at end of life. It would both reduce waste, and help to reduce the UK’s demand for new materials.
‘Think of your house as a bank of materials that can be deconstructed, separated, and reused, and design this in from the outset,’ he says.
Source: Timothy Soar
In reworking 160 Old Street, Islington, new brick and glass cladding was added but the essential structure was largely retained
To meet the UK’s net zero carbon targets, an increasing number of urban projects are likely to repurpose buildings that already exist rather than replace them with new ones.
Image: courtesy Doughnut Economics Action Lab
According to the model, no one should fall into the hole in the center of the doughnut, which would mean they don’t have enough to afford basic needs. The outer ring of the doughnut represents the ecological limits of the planet, from biodiversity loss and air pollution to climate breakdown.
Image: author provided.
Advanced sensors and AI that can detect quickly and determine accurately what can be used among CDW and efficient robotic sorting could aid circular construction by vastly improving the recycling of a wide range of materials. The focus should be on the smart dismantling of buildings and ways of optimising cost-effective processes.
Deforestation is one factor contributing to unprecedented consumption of materials in recent years. (Photo: World Bank Photo Collection/Flickr/cc)
Half of the materials used each year are clay, gravel, sand, and other materials used for construction, and about 40% of the materials used are turned into housing—yet according to the Homeless World Cup Foundation, an estimated 100 million people worldwide are homeless and as many as 1.6 billion people have inadequate housing.
‘To me, this indicates the need to further question the current practices of the construction sector. How is it that something so simple and obvious as keeping reusable resources intact and in circulation can have become so complicated to put into practice?’
The project will see over 1,000 homes demolished and materials reused. Based on an initial assessment of the regeneration project, the scale of benefits that may be realised through comprehensive implementation of Clarion’s circular economy strategy are significant.
EcoSet is a non-profit company working on a better behind-the-scenes for the production and event industries. Operating in Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis and other cities, EcoSet redirects used sets, props and more to people in need including schools, nonprofits, theaters, filmmakers, artists and makers.
Material passports specify the position, availability and value of the materials in your buildings. They support the circular economy by making it easier to identify and reuse products, tapping into inherent value rather than squandering it and starting from scratch. Instead of ‘crushing buildings into pretty useless rubble,’ as circular economy expert Duncan Baker-Brown of BBM Sustainable Design explains, material passports make beneficial deconstruction, or even keeping a building, more likely.
Landfill diversion from offices currently sits at 78% and Google is focusing on construction and deconstruction to contribute to its circular vision. Google has been implementing interior ‘salvage and reuse’ at the interior building scale since 2012. Last year, the company started work with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to explore the triple bottom line benefits of deconstruction.
Professor Veena Sahajwalla is passionate about stopping valuable composite materials from ending up in landfill and boosting efforts to establish a circular economy where nothing goes to waste.
The Auckland region is in the midst of a major building boom. Whilst this is good news for new homebuyers, it generates a lot of waste that usually ends up being sent to landfill.
The council is working to adopt a deconstruction and soft strip approach as a standard. The deconstruction methodology sees buildings carefully taken down, bit by bit, to recover materials so that they can be re-used elsewhere. This can include building fittings and fixtures, such as seating, light fittings, kitchen and bathroom sinks, as well as important building componentry and materials such as trusses, timber, corrugated iron, and steel.
As people abandon homes the effects ripple through the community. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
We’ve coined the term domicology to describe our study of the life cycles of the built environment. It examines the continuum from the planning, design and construction stages through to the end of use, abandonment and deconstruction or reuse of structures.Domicology recognizes the cyclical nature of the built environment. Ultimately we’re imagining a world where no building has to be demolished. Structures will be designed with the idea that once they reach the end of their usefulness, they can be deconstructed with the valuable components repurposed or recycled.
Central to the design was shifting focus from aesthetics to long-term effects. As ABN AMRO stressed, the building “didn’t have to be as beautiful as possible, but as good as possible”. This meant end users were involved in the process, even going so far as to contribute their old company uniforms for recycling into acoustic textile plaster for the walls and ceilings. This inclusion creates social return and added social impact.
British designer Timothy Oulton turned to natural materials, working with Chinese indigo dye craftsmen in a remote village to create fabric for his Noble Souls sofa range shown in Milan.
The unprecedented manifesto from the organisers of April’s fair called on the design industry to improve innovation and sustainability, and to embrace the circular economy. In practice, this means exploring new solutions for recycling materials and working with sustainable natural materials, keeping resources in use for as long as possible, and recovering and regenerating materials at the end of their life.
“The initiative aims at generating new ideas about how to shape and produce in a more sustainable manner as well as create the conditions for circular manufacturing,” said Anna Gudmundsdottir, co-founder of Malmö Upcycling Service. “We continuously visit local manufacturers to find what waste is left over when they produce other products.”
With Portico, Google would help cities identify any faulty materials found in buildings. While the technology does encourage reusing materials as much as possible, these materials have to prove safe. If they don’t, they get recycled to turn into something new for the city to use later on.
Another tool, called Portico, tracks the health of materials used in buildings. Google has used it internally in about 200 of its own buildings. “If you envision this world in which you’re endlessly cycling materials back into the system, it’s really critical that you know what’s in them, and that you know there’s nothing harmful,” says Brandt. Digital tools can also be used to create online marketplaces for reused building materials.
Chuck Sudo/Bisnow Whiner Beer Co. brews its beer at The Plant and opened a taproom whose bar, tables and chairs were made from reclaimed wood.
This 94K SF former slaughterhouse was abandoned and slated for demolition when John Edel — through his company Bubbly Dynamics — bought it in 2010 and slowly repurposed the building into a vertical farm and food production business committed to a “circular economy,” a closed loop of recycling and material reuse. Today, the Plant is home to several businesses where the waste stream from one business is repurposed for use by another business elsewhere in the building.
Isabel Ordonez Pizarro, an expert on how yo reuse materials from trash. Credit: Chalmers University of Technology
“In general, I think that people who are interested in circular economy or material recirculation will find my work useful. But I still think that it’s much work left to do. I would like to establish material recirculation hubs in urban areas, where local producers, secondary material providers, waste managers and makers can meet and create new ways of collaborating to enable material recovery. I also find it interesting to develop more efficient, decentralized waste management solutions and I believe that it would help users to sort their waste better,” Isabel says.
Susanne Baker of techUK says ambitious suite of efficiency standards being developed at EU level as part of Circular Economy legislation can boost eco-design of products.
Ultimately the intention is to extend product lifetimes, facilitate the ability to reuse components or recycle materials at the end of life, and to facilitate the reuse of components and/or recycled materials in products.
“In many cases, the net value of recycling waste materials is more than the value of the energy generated from them,” he said. “Also, reducing the need for virgin materials is the most important, from a perspective of environmental protection. Based on this logic, among the practices in circular economy, reuse is usually the best solution. Recycling and composting are the second best options. If reuse, recycling, and composting are not feasible or don’t make economic and environmental sense, waste to energy should be a good solution.”
Image credit: Till Krech/Wikimedia Commons
The WEF claims that less than a third of all construction and demolition waste is recovered and reused, resulting in billions of tonnes of materials being wasted. In the United States, about 40 percent of solid waste derives from construction and demolition.“Such waste involves a significant loss of valuable minerals, metals and organic materials,” wrote the WEF’s Keith Beene. “With such quantities involved, even small improvements in the way the construction industry works will have significant impacts on sustainability.”
The project recognises that closed loop recycling depends on three main factors: systematic dismantling of buildings; source sorting of waste to avoid mixed waste and contamination; and stringent specifications for recycled gypsum, so that it can be reincorporated into the manufacturing process. In practice, this involves the full spectrum of the supply chain, which is why the project’s membership is so broad.
Ultimately, the industry will need to take a holistic approach to deconstruction. But plasterboard is an important place to start. Its principal material, gypsum, is infinitely recyclable as gypsum, and unlocking the potential to keep this material within a closed cycle should provide valuable insight for other parts of the industry.
Equally crucial is to involve the entire supply chain. Marshalling materials in our sector is a long-term task, and a shift in mindset and a maturing marketplace for post-consumer waste should make sustainable practice a more attractive option in construction.
Mr Davies told letsrecycle.com: “This is part of a much wider cross governmental approach not only with waste but a much wider economic focus on how we use resources. The fundamental ambition we wish to give is to create the conditions for a circular economy in Wales. We not only want to develop the size of our waste ambitions but also we say that waste is a resource that can be used again and again.
“We do not want a disposable economy in Wales. Historically we have always taken great care of our possessions and I think that it is the basis of a virtuous circular economy.”