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Construction Waste and Moving Towards a Circular Economy: Reduce, Recycle, and Reuse

By 28/10/2021 0 Comments

Introduction

In a world that is constantly being driven by increased consumption of materials and extraction of earth’s natural resources, conscious efforts must be made towards reducing waste, recycling materials, and re-using items to ease the strain on planetary resources. The “take-make-dispose” approach to production and consumption is being challenged all over the world today. In 2019, more than 92 billion tonnes of materials were extracted from earth and processed for consumption, accounting for nearly half of the global CO2 emissions. The resulting waste included plastics, textiles, electronics and other harmful materials that are also taking a further toll on the environment and human health. Moreover, more than 30 percent of the total solid waste generated in the world consists of construction and demolition waste. The concept of a circular economy promotes the elimination of waste and encourages the safe use of earth’s natural resources, offering up to USD 4.5 trillion in economic benefits to the world. This swift research article by the Iqbal Institute of Policy Studies will dilate on the topic of circular economy and construction waste in Pakistan.

What is a Circular Economy?

With increasing urbanisation and population growth, it has become more and more important to create a more sustainable future that allows the natural environment to recover its resources and protect itself from the negative effects of industrialised waste. Urbanisation grew from 14% to 54% between 1900 and 2015 and is projected to reach 66% by 2050. Also, resource extraction also increased by 12-fold during the same period. Realising the harmful side-effects of unregulated consumption with minimal recycling and reuse, circular economies were conceptualized in the 1970s with the goal of promoting a society where nothing goes to waste. It has become a vision for progressive leaders and campaigners all over the world. It refers to an economic system that replaces the ‘end-of-life’ concept with reducing, reusing, recycling, and recovering materials in production, distribution, and consumption processes. The goal is to achieve sustainable development in a way that promotes environmental equity, economic prosperity, and social equity (Kirchherr, 2017).

As input commodities were inexpensive and widely available, the linear model of economies was developed, but is no longer sustainable, thus requiring a new, more sustainable model. Circularity challenges this approach with useful applications of materials, an extension of product lifetimes, and smarter product use and manufacture. It is possible to visualize the circular economy concept in two dimensions, before and after use. The concept of upstream circularity (before use) involves managing resources efficiently, improving production and consumption productivity, minimising waste, and keeping production costs as low as possible. Circularity downstream (after use) is about maximizing the value of waste materials. Value preservation, resource optimization, and system effectiveness are three characteristics of an effective circular economy. Cities are ideal for the implementation of circular economies since they generate over 80 percent of the global GDP.

How Construction and Demolition Waste can be Used in a Circular Economy?

The construction industry has horizontal and vertical linkages with more than 40 allied sectors of the economy and is a major contributor towards the overall growth of a country. Not only does it have an economic impact, but it also touches the lives of millions of people as their quality of life depends on the built environment surrounding them. However, the construction industry’s appetite for raw material is vast. About 30 percent of the solid waste generated in Pakistan comes from the construction industry, and there is a great opportunity to create closed material loops towards establishing a circular economy. Construction and demolition waste is a combination of surplus constituents generated from construction, renovation, and demolition of infrastructure. However, the quality and quantity of construction waste generated from any specific activity varies depending on multiple factors. Poor handling of materials, inadequate storage and protection, over ordering of materials, poor site control, lack of training, bad stock control, and damage to materials during delivery are some of the major causes of construction waste generation.

Construction waste can be categorized into three main categories namely, inert, non-inert, and hazardous. The first category includes soil, sand, rocks, concrete, aggregates, plaster, bricks, masonry blocks, glass, and tiles. The second category includes items like wood, paper, drywall, gypsum, metals, plastic, cardboard, and packaging, whereas the last category includes flammable materials like paints and corrosive materials like acids, bases, and explosives (Park, Kim, Roh, & Ban, 2020). A study conducted on 30 construction sites revealed that concrete (12.32%), metal (9.62%), brick (6.54%), plastic (0.43%), wood (69.10%) and others (2%) are some of the major categories of waste generated during construction. Considering global standards, construction waste accounts for a substantial share of 25 to 30 percent in the total solid waste generated worldwide, and it makes 10 to 30 percent of all waste in landfill sites. According to studies conducted in countries around the globe, construction waste in Pakistan is around 20 to 30 percent of the total solid waste generated in the country, and around 10 to 30 percent of all waste in landfill sites can be categorised as construction waste.

The Prospects for a Circular Economy

The concept of a circular economy revolves around the reduce, recycle and reuse strategy. It is also famously known as the 3R principle. Very little gets reused or recycled in the construction industry and a majority of construction waste is generated because of inefficient use and over ordering of materials. Therefore, construction is going to have a significant impact on the way the world uses its natural resources in the future. Even though these materials could be used in several cases, less than a third of all construction waste is recovered and reused, (Breene, 2016). Not only does this involve a significant waste of natural resources, but it also leads to loss of valuable minerals, metals, and organic materials. A circular economy can become a viable alternative by promoting designing of products that are “made to be made again”, while also powering the system with renewable energy. Applying this principle to the construction industry can bring about many cost benefits. With the help of the government and regulators, small changes in the processes of material management and construction process optimisation can lead to energy savings of more than 30 percent. Therefore, efforts should be made towards optimising the recycling and reuse of construction waste, while also making efforts to reduce consumption.

Conclusion

The construction industry is the one of the most resource intensive and demanding sector of the economy. The industry is also a major cause of solid waste generation. However, most of this waste is not recycled or reused, whereas 30 percent of it can be repurposed for different cases. The concept of a circular economy focuses on designing products and strategies that encourage the reuse of materials and products, reducing the levels of waste generated in society. Therefore, it is high time that the construction industry adopts the circular economic model and reduces, recycles, and reuses the waste generated.

Bibliography

Breene, K. (2016). Can the circular economy transform the world’s number one consumer of raw materials? Retrieved from World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/05/can-the-circular-economy-transform-the-world-s-number-one-consumer-of-raw-materials/

Iqbal, K., & Baig, M. A. (2016). Quantitative and Qualitative Estimation of Construction Waste Material in Punjab Province of Pakistan. IDOSI. Retrieved from https://www.idosi.org/aejaes/jaes16(4)16/17.pdf

Park, W.-J., Kim, R., Roh, S., & Ban, H. (2020). Identifying the Major Construction Wastes in the Building Construction Phase Based on Life Cycle Assessments. Department of Civil Engineering, Kangwon National University, Samcheok 25913, Korea. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/12/19/8096/pdf

World Economic Forum. (2016). Shaping the Future ofConstruction A Breakthrough in Mindset and Technology. Retrieved from https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Shaping_the_Future_of_Construction_full_report__.pdf

Research Questions

What is a circular economy?

How Construction and Demolition Waste can be Used in a Circular Economy?

What are the Prospects for a Circular Economy?

Key Takeaways

In a world that is constantly being driven by increased consumption of materials and extraction of earth’s natural resources, conscious efforts must be made towards reducing waste, recycling materials, and re-using items to ease the strain on planetary resources.

The “take-make-dispose” approach to production and consumption is being challenged all over the world today.

In 2019, more than 92 billion tonnes of materials were extracted from earth and processed for consumption, accounting for nearly half of the global CO2 emissions.

The resulting waste included plastics, textiles, electronics and other harmful materials that are also taking a further toll on the environment and human health.

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