Recycling buildings in the circular economy
As I explored Expo Real and the miles of stands, one in particular stood out. European consulting, planning and project management enterprise Drees & Sommer had designed its booth using the cradle-to-cradle concept.
What is cradle to cradle?
The concept, co-developed by German chemist Michael Braungart and architect William McDonough, describes the principle of two continuous cycles, both referring to the circular economy, an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and encouraging the continual use of resources.
For the biological cycle, materials and building components are designed to feedback into and regenerate living systems. An example of this is green roofs catching rain water which is then used in a building for flushing toilets and irrigating, thereby the site becomes part of the local water cycle.
Technical cycles recover and restore products, components and materials through strategies such as reuse, repair, remanufacture or recycling. An example of this would be reusing flooring or bricks from another site.
Drees & Sommer had labels throughout its stand highlighting the sustainable materials it had used from its steel scaffolds to its chairs made from recyclable and non-hazardous materials.
Circular economy isn’t a new idea and it isn’t just about recycling buildings. As construction margins get smaller, demand for sustainable materials and production is at all-time high, and in the words of Anna Surgenor, senior sustainability advisor at UK Green Building Council and the leader of its circular economy programme, “it’s a surprise that not much is being done in the UK.”
The Netherlands has set itself a target of having a 50% circular economy by 2030 and to be fully circular by 2050. This is reflected when you Google examples of circular economy, the majority of projects are Dutch, including a recent development by trendsetting developer Edge Technologies.
The firm produced a building which can be rebuilt at a different location without creating any waste flows, and used a BIM-based Material Passport, which provides a record of all the materials used within the building.
Circular in the UK
There are only a few examples of companies in the UK attempting to incorporate the concept of circular into developments. This is something the UK Green Building Council is trying to change.
UKGBC launched its circular economy programme in spring 2018. In the first year the council worked with members and stakeholders to produce a comprehensive practical guide for those wanting to include circular principles in their project briefs.
The council also created a web-based actor and resource map of initiatives within the built environment around circular economy, to allow organisations to use existing knowledge and methodologies without repeating the work of others
Companies in the UK taking steps toward a circular economy
One of the UK’s largest housing associations, is attempting to implement the circular economy strategy into its Merton Regeneration project, a £1bn investment to provide 2,800 new home in Wimbledon, along with 97,000 sq ft of retail, leisure, office, work and community space.
The project will see over 1,000 homes demolished and materials reused. Based on an initial assessment of the regeneration project, the scale of benefits that may be realised through comprehensive implementation of Clarion’s circular economy strategy are significant.
For the demolition and construction phase alone benefits could include:
- £5m cost savings in waste disposal and materials purchased
- 16,500 fewer HGV movements
- 7,760 tonnes CO2 saving, equivalent to the annual operation of approximately 2,000 homes
- 122,000 tonnes of virgin material use avoided
The warehouse of Oz
Industrial developer Segro relocated a warehouse building to a site one mile away. The firm dismantled 34,000 sq ft of office space and warehouse on Leigh Road in Slough and re-erected it in Cambridge Avenue.
The benefits Segro found included:
- 25% cost saving compared to a new build
- 6% lower whole life carbon footprint compared with a new build
- 56% lower greenhouse emissions produced during construction at practical completion compared to a new build
- No organic waste
The London Waste & Recycling Board is a partnership between the Mayor of London and the London boroughs to improve waste and resource management with a focus on circular economy. The board decided to practice what it preached when it fitted-out its office in November 2018.
Completed in four weeks, the brief was to retain, refurbish and recycle, with a consideration of open source design or leasing where appropriate. This meant understanding what would happen to items at the end of their life.
The board reused existing meeting rooms and doors, kitchen cabinets in a new layout, existing carpet, air conditioning and lighting, and blinds. Refurbished furniture was procured, as well as reclaimed timber from another site and refurbished electronics.