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By: Karen Lopez on November 17th, 2021

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5 Examples of Circular Economy Solutions in the Construction Industry

Green & Sustainable | Operating Insights

Circular economy solutions aim at establishing a sustainable model of production and consumption by optimizing resources and reducing and recovering waste (giving it a second life as a new product). Thus, by adopting these solutions, businesses can extend product lifecycles, reuse waste, and ensure a more sustainable production model.

The construction domain is one of the largest users of energy and is responsible for 38% of emissions globally. Further, it is responsible for 30% of the extraction of natural resources in the world. Hence, to reduce its ecological footprint this industry must shift from a linear to a circular economy. This will not just protect the environment but also benefit the local economy by encouraging sustainable production models.

In this article, we will share instances showing how the construction realm is adopting various circular economy solutions.

1. Reuse of Local Excavated Earth to Make Eco-Friendly Building Material

As mentioned earlier, the construction domain is the most carbon and material intensive sector. This industry is also one of the most polluting industries globally.

For instance, excavation sites are a common source of pollution and waste of resources. More often than not, the excavated earth and mining waste end up being transported and dumped in faraway places like mines, quarries, and artificial mountains.

Inefficient activities of digging, transporting, and dumping this waste contribute to superfluous transport, air pollution, and carbon emissions. However, several firms are reusing locally excavated earth as construction materials.

BC Materials is one such autonomous research center that collaborates with architects, construction firms, and transporters to recover and reclaim surplus mass. They are responsible for recycling this earth into construction materials like clay plasters, rammed earth, and compressed earth blocks. These are then sold directly to building companies and general and trade contractors.

Much of a construction firm’s carbon footprint comes from the transportation of materials. By reusing locally excavated materials the construction segment can become carbon-neutral and reduce the need for natural resources.

2. Adoption of Cradle to Cradle (C2C) Approach in Construction

Micheal Braungart, a process engineer, and William McDonough, an architect developed the cradle-to-cradle approach that offers a positive restorative impact on the environment. The approach involves selecting construction materials that can go through infinite life cycles.

The flooring company, Desso is one of the pioneers of this approach. The firm adheres to circular economy principles by introducing take-back programs and products with recyclable yarn that can be used over and over. They use 100% renewable hydropower electricity at every stage of the carpet manufacturing process.

The firm is also developing biodegradable material bases for their carpets using materials like corn by-products and bamboo yarn.

The linear cradle to grave process ends up wasting energy and natural resources and destroying habitats. On the other hand, the circular cradle to cradle process ensures that the natural habitats are less disturbed and the natural resources are fed with waste materials to regrow.

It is quite exciting to see an increasing number of construction companies adopting these principles.

3. Construction Equipment Reusability

The construction world is faced with climate emergencies and resource scarcity. Hence, several game-changers are coming up with innovative solutions to repurpose materials and equipment or reuse them directly.

For instance, special marketplaces are emerging to encourage construction waste reuse and circularity. Ventures like Cycle Up and Waste Marketplace offer platforms for linking supply and demand of construction waste.

Several construction equipment firms are leasing equipment at competitive prices, thus optimizing resource utilization. At firms like Backacia, excess equipment is offered at competitive prices, thus reducing construction waste.

On the software side of things, solutions for adopting and managing circular processes in the construction industry are developing. For instance, rental services like Sharefox allow construction firms (looking to rent out heavy equipment) to digitize and streamline their equipment rental processes. Such solutions make it easy for firms to optimize the reuse processes.

4. Plastic Upcycling

Recycled plastics are being increasingly applied in the construction domain to save energy and landfill space and protect the oceans. It is estimated that 11 million metric tons of plastic waste end up in the oceans each year. Without serious action, this figure is only expected to triple by 2040.

The circular economy envisions a closed-loop for plastics like cola and beverage containers, consumer packaging, and jars. The American Beverage Association (ABA) recently convened sustainability leaders, policymakers, and innovators to take specific actions for reducing waste plastic. Collectively, they are promoting the idea of designing products to reduce the amount of material being used and make their packaging fully recyclable.

The heterogeneity of plastic waste is making it challenging for the construction domain to recycle and reuse it. However, construction startups are working on plastic upcycling solutions for converting waste into construction materials.

For instance, Arqlite, a U.S.-based plastic upcycling firm recycles plastic packaging waste into Smart Gravel, a durable insulator.

Other firms like AMP Robotics are making robots to automate the manual sorting of construction waste like asphalt, aluminum, concrete, stone, and more, thus making the process more efficient.

5. Customizable Modular Units

By 2050, nearly two-thirds of the global population is expected to live in cities. This means as they densify, cities need to adopt innovative ways to live a sustainable lifestyle.

One of the solutions that are gaining traction in the construction sector is smart modular design strategies. These adaptive modules are a sustainable alternative to traditional construction. Modular construction allows customers and contractors to put together prefabricated parts while reducing waste and carbon footprint.

The Belgian startup, Bao Living, for instance, manufactures Smart Adaptable Modules (SAMs) for sustainable and affordable residential construction. These series of modular units can be configured in various ways. The product hugely reduces the carbon footprint for the construction project and ensures energy savings. 

Summing Up

The science behind construction and demolition projects is fascinating. Though these projects generate a lot of waste and use several natural resources, they offer several opportunities for the adoption of a circular economy. By implementing these principles, the segment can considerably improve resource efficiency, reduce the dependence on natural resources, minimize and reuse waste.

Karen Lopez is a freelance content writer at Marketing Digest. She likes sharing her knowledge in a wide range of domains ranging from home renovation to industrial and commercial lighting suppliers like LED Lighting Supply. Her work has been featured in a couple of leading magazines such as Constructor Magazine, Electrical News, and many others. In her free time, she enjoys listening to Jazz music and watching Netflix. Connect with her on LinkedIn.