Many city governments have realised that halting the effects of climate change cannot happen fast enough. Cities will have to adopt new policies to make them resilient enough to live with and recover from the effects of climate events. Innovative ideas and technologies will help create sustainable cities capable of supporting populations of the future. One area that is proving a growing concern is the increasing amount of waste in cities, especially waste generated by the building and construction sectors.
Future sustainability will depend on a more circular model, reducing environmental impacts while strengthening the built environment. Currently, the building sector is a major source of waste. The residential, commercial, and public buildings in developed economies remain responsible for 40 percent of solid waste generation and 30 percent of raw material use. Increased reuse and recycling of construction materials is a key component in developing future resilient cities.
Reframing the opportunities with efficient waste handling policies
In Europe and across the globe, new technologies provide a unique opportunity to overcome the renovation challenge. Adopting circular principles as part of the economic recovery is an attractive (if not vital) approach for ensuring future sustainability. Placing renewed emphasis on designing waste out from the system at every stage of a building’s lifecycle brings tangible benefits.
By legislating the use of durable and recyclable materials, cities can benefit by:
- Reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.
- Decoupling growth and development in cities from the use of raw materials
- Limiting the extraction of virgin materials required for new construction or renovation projects.
- Addressing the excessive levels of carbon emissions present in every step of the supply chain.
Increasing the recycling of materials used in building construction and renovation projects is vital for increased resource effectiveness and for reducing the waste challenge we as societies are facing. Sustainable development practices should continue to improve and be applied during the design, construction, occupation, maintenance, renovation, and final deconstruction of all buildings.
Supporting circular thinking in the building sector
A future that supports generations of human populations should now factor into most policy-makers decisions. Philosophical changes in societal considerations are becoming the norm, with some think tanks starting to look at concepts like a billion-year plan. Lofty ideals about future progress are futile if we do not address the current challenges and build the foundations that enable these philosophies. Developing a truly circular economy with a high degree of resource effectiveness is just as important as investing in state-of-the-art technologies and energy-efficient production techniques.
According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), building sector professionals are holding back sustainable practices because they lack understanding of the benefits and overestimate the real cost of green buildings. Sustainable construction may be associated with marginally higher start-up costs, but the operating costs compared to traditional buildings will be substantially lower due to their highly energy-efficient structures.
To accelerate the circular economy in the construction and manufacturing sector, national and city governments must support and facilitate the development of the needed infrastructure and help to create a demand by setting clear targets in large public tenders.