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To move forward we should all be going round in circles

Its name may score high on the jargon register, but the EU Commission’s newly unveiled Circular Economy Package is anything but meaningless for the construction sector.

It’s a long-term strategy for the recovery, re-use and recycling of materials, across Europe and all business sectors, including construction.

It focuses not just on proposed legislative targets for waste reduction, and maximising use of precious natural resources, but also sets out ways in which these could be achieved.

It’s all about moving from the single use of materials – a linear economy of source, use and dispose – to a circular economy where re-use is at the fore.

By bringing countries together with a uniform approach, it aims to bring not just environmental benefit but competitive advantage and job creation.

“If the aim is to introduce a true circular economy within construction, the commission has not gone far enough”

The stakes are high with the commission estimating that, across Europe, we could save €600bn and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by between 2 and 4 per cent.

Construction must play its part.

The package has not been without controversy.

The announcement has been delayed a number of times, with accusations that its binding targets have been watered down. For example, a 2014 proposed common EU target to recycle 70 per cent of all municipal waste is now 65 per cent.

What matters for our sector now is that there’s a Europe-wide way forward, at a time when one tonne of construction and demolition waste is produced each year for every man, woman and child in the EU.

However, if the aim is to introduce a true circular economy within construction, the commission has not gone far enough.

My immediate interest here, as head of sustainability at Siniat, is the impact on the use of plasterboard, but the implications are industry wide.

Among the commission’s proposals is that pre-demolition guidelines for buildings should be developed.

It’s a sensible suggestion which will allow recovery of more usable and high-value materials when a building is deconstructed.

“If we’re serious about achieving a true circular economy in construction, we need some enforcement”

The problem is, there’s no suggestion that these audits should be mandatory.

Encouragement is all well and good, but if we’re serious about achieving a true circular economy in construction, we need some enforcement.

We have to move from a demolition culture to a dismantling culture, to ensure we recover valuable materials, such as the gypsum used in plasterboard, and use them again as new building products.

We need to design, specify and build for recyclability.

The commission has set out its route to a circular economy for construction. Without compulsion, will the industry take it?

Steve Hemmings is head of EHS & sustainability at Siniat

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