Circular Economy in the Built Environment

Current and future advancements show that the request for natural resources will rise three times in 2050. The main reasons under these advancements are on the one hand the global economic growth and on the other hand the increase of the world population, from 7 billion people today to 9 billion people in the next 50 years. (Swilling, 2011).

At the same time, the middle class will significantly increase, which will lead directly to the doubling of consumption per capita. (WBCSD, 2008) Because of the above mentioned changes, improving the life quality for many is a case in danger. (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2012). Adding to this the waste production is continuously increasing. Since the introduction of the “Ladder van Lansink: (in 1970) and the introduction of the Circular Economy concept by the European Union, waste prevention becomes a priority. (Icibaci 2019)

‘Circular economy is a sustainable act by thinking the circular supply chains and maximizing the value of materials in which products can be re-used remanufactured or/and re-cycled.’ (EMF, 2012).

Nowadays the built environment is the major sector that uses 40 to 50% of the raw materials and 10 to 30% of the waste flow in the European Union. (Uihlein & Eder, 2009). Natural resources processed and extracted from the operation and construction of buildings and infrastructures are considered for the major consumption of resources, energy, and materials. (Adriaanse, 1997; Matthews, 2000; Boardman, 2004; Graedel and Howard-Grenville, 2005; Ortiz, 2009; Wiedmann, 2015, Icibaci, 2019). The circular economy in the building sector is a systematic approach that could gradually lead to the confrontation of the above mentioned situation. A method towards circular constructions is to recycle the materials used in the built environment, a process in which constructions are designed in a way that allows their materials to be reused, upcycled, and downcycled. (ABN, 2014).

The circular economy is now gaining attention, but knowledge and tools for bringing this concept in reality still need to be developed. A lot of research has been conducted regarding the ways in which different parts of a product or construction can be reused or recycled after the product’s or building's expected lifetime. Moving from a linear Economy to a Circular Economy in construction is the key to increase the quality and quantity of recycling and reuse of construction and demolition materials. A large proportion of companies and startups are focusing on creating a Circular framework for their products and services lifespan. Furthermore, design for disassembly, Internet of Things, and Material banks are being introduced to optimize circular construction practices. The circular economy in construction ensures that resources in the construction chain are used and reused as much as possible and more environmentally friendly materials are preferred. The final goal: a completely circular construction industry in the close future!

Further reading:

-Swilling, M. (2011). Decoupling natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth. United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) ecoupling_Report_English.Pdf.

-WBCSD. (2008).

Sustainable consumption facts &trends: From a business perspective.

-Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2012). Towards the Circular Economy: Economic and Business Rationale for an Accelerated Transition. Ellen MacArthur Foundation Cowes, UK

-Icibaci, L. (2019). Reuse of Building Products in the Netherlands

-Uihlein, A., & Eder, P. (2009). Towards additional policies to improve the environmental performance of buildings. European Commission

-Adriaanse, A., Brigenzu, S.,Hammond, A., Moriguchi, Y.,Rodenburg, E., Rogich, D. and Schutz,

H. (1997). Resource Flows: TheMaterial Basis of Industrial Economies. World Resources Institute, Washington DC

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