Recycling services for building materials: A key condition for achieving circularity

Our Sustainability and Public Affairs Manager, Magdalini Psarra participated
today at the Beyond 2020 event - one of the biggest global conferences around sustainability - to address the burning issue of recycling in the construction industry today, by taking inspiration from Rockfon’s own innovative solution.

Construction, Building, Planning, Engineer, Tablet, Worker

Status of construction waste today

According to the UN 2019 global status report for buildings and construction, the building sector accounts for more than one-third of the global resource consumption. What's more, buildings generate significant amounts of waste, in fact, 40% of the generated urban solid waste [1] and only 20–30% of construction and demolition waste (CDW) is recycled or reused, which is often due to poor design and lack of information on building contents [2]. In absolute numbers, this is equal to 450 million tons of construction and demolition waste that is generated each year in Europe [3]. This significant amount of wast highlights the need to have more circular models in the construction industry, which will enable and encourage recycling and reuse.

Shift towards circularity

The linear economic model of “take-make-dispose” means that raw materials are used to make products, which are then used until the end of their life, and finally sent to landfill. This system has proven to be inefficient as it has led to an increase in waste volumes, but also a depletion of raw material resources. This highlights the need to shift towards a circular approach of “reduce-reuse-recycle”, where the use of resources is reduced, the potential of remaking or reusing the products increases and eventually the materials are recycled instead of landfilled.

The concept of the circular economy, according to Ellen MacArthur Foundation [4] rests on three principles: regenerating natural systems, keeping away waste and pollution and keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible. By aligning the way we design and manufacture products with the principles of the circular economy, we can create a more resilient, restorative circular construction industry.

How we do circularity

In Rockfon, we've incorporated those principles described by Ellen MacArthur and have tried to integrate them into our processes and the products we offer to the market. We are taking a lifecycle approach, and we look into all the stages of our products' lifecycle for possible improvements.

We are continuously trying to increase the share of recycled content and take more recycled materials into our production, instead of using virgin resources. This will not only include our own waste from the market and production but also waste from other industries that would otherwise be sent to landfill.

Our products are designed and manufactured in a way that is easy to manually remove them from the ceiling and send them for reuse or recycling. Our products can be reused and at the end of their life, they can be recycled to create new stone wool products, following a close loop circle.

Our recycling efforts across Europe

Right now Rockfon offers recycling options for customers in our key European markets, and we have a plan of expanding that service to even more countries in the coming years.

We are conscious about the waste volume of the construction industry and we are committed to try and do our share in order to reduce that, by taking responsibility for our own waste and trying as much as possible to minimize that.

Barriers, restrictions and future considerations

Even though today, some manufacturers are committed towards recycling and are trying to contribute to the circular economy, there are several barriers that inhibit this system from being picked up in Europe and making it the new norm. Even in buildings where most of the materials selected can be reused or recycled, this is not, in many cases, done successfully.

Partially, this could be due to the lack of information,  interest and incentives about the reuse or recycling possibilities during the building’s demolition phase, or even lack of education around circular economy and its benefits to the environment. This can be addressed in the future by the establishing:

  1. Introducing material passports,
  2. The inclusion of the end of life information in BIM, I
  3. Increasing the training and education sessions across the construction industry and
  4. The creation of economic incentives around circularity and recycling.

Additionally, there is a significant lack of networks and feasible logistics solutions that will make the reuse or recycling of materials possible. Currently, there is a lack of waste handling companies that operate in a European or cross country level, which could help build a good network of transporting construction waste into the appropriate recycling centres for its handling. Additional barriers and restrictions of transporting construction waste across countries without having several permits, create one more burden to the process. If the responsibility will fall under the manufacturer of the construction material, then the latter has to operate as a waste handling company, making sure that they acquire all the relevant permits for transporting the waste and create a very good logistics network.

Finally, the low landfill costs in many countries or regions in Europe are a counter-incentive against the interest around circularity and recycling of construction materials. It is evident that there is a need for higher responsibility and increased awareness from all the stakeholders in the construction industry, from architects and engineers to waste handling companies to even legislators and national governments.

We need to make a shift from focusing only on the theoretical recycling and reuse potential of construction materials, to establishing partnerships and networks to make that happen. Helping Europe achieve less waste in the coming years is everyone’s responsibility and without a doubt, the construction sector can achieve a major step towards that. 

 

[1] World Bank (2012), What a waste: a global review of solid waste management, p. 16, available via https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/17388, accessed Nov.2020.

[2] Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2013), Towards the circular economy p. 16; M. Honicet et al. (2019), Data- and stakeholder-management framework for the implementation of BIM-based material passports, Journal of Building Engineering

[3] Waste (second edition) (2019), ScienceDirect, available via https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/construction-waste, accessed Oct.2020.

[4] Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2020), What is the circular economy, available at: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/what-is-the-circular-economy, accessed Nov.2020