The Circular Economy in the Construction Industry
Our oceans continue to flood with plastic waste, but specifically plastic water bottles. Plastic water bottle pollution is well over 20 million tons, with a significant amount of them being non-recyclable.
Although this is just one example of our pollution, the circular economy aims to maximize the life of products. Have you heard of circular economy? We’ll focus on its purpose in the construction industry, including how it works and its relationship with the construction sector.
What Is a Circular Economy?
The circular economy is a model that aims to maximize the use and value of resources through restoration or regeneration. The motivation of a circular economy is to eliminate and reduce waste by reusing a resource for new material or product, according to the United States (US) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
A circular economy exists under the umbrella of sustainable materials management (SMM). Under SMM, a circular economy represents a commitment to reducing the climate impacts of materials and harmful material usage.
How Circular Economy Works
A circular economy works to combat climate change, resource scarcity, and excessive waste. When a product has reached the end of its lifecycle, instead of disposing of the product, as is common, a circular economy changes this pattern.
To continue using a product, it can be reused, repaired or re-manufactured, or recycled. Recycling an old product, however, requires more resources and energy.
When a product successfully cycles through the circular economy it gains value because they’re remanufactured into different products or refurbished.
The circular economic model is effective within an institution, business, city, and across countries.
Why Circular Economy Matters: the Benefits
While the circular economy aids in waste reduction and resource preservation, it isn't the only reason this economic model matters. To elaborate, here are a few reasons why the circular economy matters.
Since zero waste strives to keep the environment clear of waste, a well-established circular economy should naturally achieve zero waste. This occurs because under a circular economy the disposed products are exported and repurposed or refurbished.
Biodegradable and Recyclable Materials
A circular economy aims to circulate reused materials and extend the life of material for it to continue through the cycle.
Rethinking the Consumer
In a non-circular economy, once a product is disposed of, it ceases to exist. While in a circular economy, the user of a product is actually renting rather than buying the product. Consumers as renters essentially means that products will cycle through the circular economy process and return as a new product for a new user.
Replenishing Depleted Resources
Naturally, by maximizing a product and/or material life to the fullest extent possible, the demand for new and finite materials for manufacturing slows.
Opportunities for Circular Economy
A circular economy brings potential benefits like a relief to the environment, stability in raw materials, innovation, jobs, and economic growth. For example, in 2015, the European Union (EU) adopted a circular economy to increase resource efficiency by 30% in the year 2030.
Moreover, the European Parliament outlined four opportunities that a circular economy provides, those being:
- Positive socio-economic impact
- Reduced annual net material costs
- High-quality jobs
- Reduced greenhouse gas emissions
Circular Economy in the Construction Industry
The construction industry plays an important role in the economy and environment, according to a study published in the Journal of Building Engineering. The construction sector also accounts for large consumption of raw materials and energy usage, making them a lead player in the fight against climate change and environmentally friendly production processes.
From a Linear to Circular Economy
A linear economy is the complete opposite of a circular economy because the preceding economic model is the harvesting and/or collection of raw materials into a product, into the consumers' hands, and, ultimately, disposed of at the user's discretion.
According to the study mentioned above, the construction sector is one of the leading sectors that can adopt a circular economy model. Specifically, the authors suggest implementing a circular economy with eco-friendly products and technology.
Rather than disposing of a material, the construction sector can achieve a circular economy by:
Avoiding unnecessary demand for new material through restoration, like preserving a standing building
Salvage and resource stations
Potential For the Construction Industry Using A Circular Economy
Like any significant change the initial transition to a circular economy is taxing. Yet, successful implementation of a circular economy encourages sustainability and reusable materials and decreases the amount of waste in the landfill.
A circular economy provides many waste-related jobs with high and low positions. In addition, the EU predicts companies €250 to €465 billion in annual net material cost savings.
Last, a circular economy creates a sense of community. While there are many more potential positives, there are indeed many roadblocks when switching to a circular economy.
Challenges of a Circular Economy
For example, according to a study by Elise Drangevåg on “Circular Economy in the Construction Industry,” since most construction industries follow a linear economic model, the business itself is managed on that model as well.
In other words, transitioning to a circular economy may entail a new business model. The issue, however, is the process of having everyone on board, like stakeholders and suppliers.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Let’s take a look at some common questions regarding circular economy:
1. Is circular economy and recycling the same?
No, the circular economic model and recycling are not the same because recycling stops at the disposal stage. Meanwhile, the circular economy uses products to create or re-manufacture a product.
2. What are the principles of circular economy?
The three principles of circular economy are:
- Waste and Pollution
- Keeping products and Materials in Use
- Regeneration of material and/or product
The primary goal of circular economy is to reach a point where everything we utilize and produce is sourced from something that will never run out. While that goal may be a long way off, it is certainly something to be excited about!