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Sustainable construction: making the most of our resources

Construction & demolition waste (C&DW) clearly needs to be tackled at EU level.  According to the European Commission, it accounts for 25% of the EU’s total waste production per year, amounting to 500 million tonnes, 320 to 380 million of which is concrete. Tackling such waste will contribute to ensuring a sustainable use of natural resources, resource efficiency and, of course, sustainable construction.

However, it is not just at the end-of-life stage that we should be looking at this issue: resources must be used efficiently through the whole life cycle: from extraction and manufacturing,  to construction, use, and end of life stages.  In addition, it is important that when applying the waste hierarchy, decisions should be taken based on options which offer the best overall outcomes from an environmental, social and economic perspective. 

Of course, another key element is making sure that we use resources wisely.  In a nutshell, we should be using resources which are abundant and available, and reduce dependence on those which can be considered as scarce – this implies evaluating what is ‘sustainable use’ in different ways for different resources.

In order to guarantee a future for the manufacturing sector in Europe – and to continue to provide society with the buildings and infrastructure required – we need easy and financially viable access to resources. In turn,  “Resource Efficiency” and the “sustainable use of natural resources” are important to the concrete industry and can be clearly demonstrated. For example, the principles of the waste hierarchy are applied throughout the value chain: concrete is manufactured using natural materials, which are generally abundant and locally available. At the end of its life concrete can be recycled 100%. (Indeed, some Member States have already achieved close to 100% in terms of recycling concrete from demolition waste – and, under the right conditions, there is huge potential to increase this recycling rate in other Member States).  Concrete can be recycled both through closed-loop (re-use in the same application) and open-loop (re-use in another application) recycling. Both of these recycling options can be considered as resource efficient: one is not necessarily better than the other as they both prevent the extraction of virgin raw materials.

So which policies are needed to tackle C&DW and to support resource efficiency? Regarding the sustainable use of resources, we believe that the EU should ensure that indicators to assess resource efficiency take into account both quantity and scarcity.  In order to tackle C&DW, the collection and treatment of such waste should be prioritised by material importance (i.e. whether it is a scarce and/or a hazardous resource), rather than by mass.  In addition, the impact of C&DW should be assessed from a whole life cycle perspective from the social, economic and environmental points of view.  Finally, in the  event financial measures are imposed, funds raised should be used to foster research and achieve an economically viable system in the medium term.

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