The building sector consumes half of all global materials and produces a third of all global waste each year. However, only one-fifth of architectural projects take circularity into consideration — shifting to buildings with no waste, designed and optimised for repeated reuse and recycling. Sounds difficult? These 4 considerations will help you contribute to a less wasteful society.
Bringing circularity to buildings serves two main goals: to reduce the consumption of the scarce resources on our planet and to minimise waste, without compromising on the overall sustainability of the building. The solutions are multi-dimensional, but are all centred around the basic assumption that buildings are ‘material banks’, which means that materials in buildings sustain their value.
1. Think about materials when refurbishing or demolishing
While the focus during refurbishment or demolition is on the new building, it can be worthwhile to think of the value that the materials in the current building represents. Identifying the quality and quantity of the available materials from the building that is to be refurbished or demolished is a main step towards successful reuse and recycling. Exploring possibilities for reuse or supplier systems to take back material from these buildings alone opens new opportunities in places that are otherwise overlooked.
2. Prepare new buildings for the future
Design is key to ensuring the circularity of new buildings. Buildings need to be designed to be flexible and adaptable – making them resilient to future changes in use. This may be achieved through reversible building design – a concept that enables the disassembly of (parts of) the building when needed to be reused in different ways.
Preparing buildings for the future also means that the future users of the building will need to know what is in the building to disassemble and collect the materials in the correct way for reuse and recycling. Although not common yet, building passports and digital systems like Building Information Modelling (BIM) can play an important role in information transfer to the next users.
3. Use circular products
Do circular products exist? Well … it depends. Some people say that only circular applications of construction products exist. For instance, retrieval after use for reuse or recycling is crucial for a product to be circular. But of course, we cannot wait until all products fulfil all the conditions for circularity. We must consider the most circular of solutions available today.
Think of products that are recyclable and supported by recycling schemes, durable products that keep value for reuse, materials that do not contain hazardous substances that could hamper future recycling, etc.
Reused products could be a good idea, as well as products produced from secondary raw materials. But bear in mind that these should also be recyclable later as it doesn’t make sense if the loop is not closed. Another often-proposed option is the lease of products, which may, however, work better for products with a shorter life than for products that do not need to be maintained or replaced during the life of the building.
4.Think “big picture” when it comes to sustainability
Buildings that fulfil the needs of its residents will have a bigger chance lasting. Good indoor climate, thermal comfort and acoustic performance for example, improve the health and wellbeing of inhabitants and positively affect the productivity in schools, hospitals and of workers in general. Great buildings will not often be demolished or abandoned prematurely.
Not surprisingly, healthy and comfortable living is an important aspect of circular buildings. Sustainable buildings preserve precious natural resources and improve our quality of life. It is this full picture of sustainability – the environmental, social and economic performance – that can make circular buildings a reality.
How can we contribute to the shift?
A less wasteful society should be everyone’s goal and bringing circularity to the building sector is an important step. This means considering the value of the materials in buildings, a change in design culture and ensuring that long-lasting buildings can be disassembled in the future. And of course, it means that we should all collaborate across the value chain to make it happen.
By applying these key circularity principles both to the existing building stock and to new buildings, the concept of waste can be eliminated.
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