The Role of a Materials Company in the Circular Construction Industry

In the Netherlands alone, 81 metric tons of construction waste is generated every year – nevertheless, the country has managed an applaudable 80% recycling rate on their construction and demolition waste. In fact, the construction industry in Europe and the Netherlands is steadily heading towards more sustainable development practices. And hence the opportunities for material vendors with a circular business strategy arise.

An obvious prospect lies in the business of facilitating the implementation of used and recycled materials in construction projects. But the opportunities in circular construction go far beyond simply sourcing the recycled materials and supplying it to the client. Material providers can also stand at both ends of the reuse-recycle process through take-back schemes, in which the materials company takes back the materials supplied to the construction project once what was built arrives at the end of its life. This way, more value is extracted from the materials, and fewer virgin inputs are needed for the manufacture of new products, as these recovered materials can be recycled or re-manufactured.

Similar to take-back schemes, materials may be offered to contractors as a service rather than a product. In this scheme, the materials vendor maintains ownership over the products it supplies to the client, and leases rather than sells them. At their end of life for that particular construction, the vendor retrieves their materials for reprocessing or reuse. The point of this arrangement is, again, to get more value out of the same batch of materials that would otherwise go to waste or into other hands at recycling, and to reduce the material vendor’s dependence on increasingly-scarce natural resources.

These schemes can be actualized by doing a pre-refurbish or pre-demolish audit of the building to identify the retainable and reusable materials. Materials passports make this process easier – keeping a ‘passport’ of the building’s material components and their usage history makes it easier to recover as much of them as possible as efficiently as possible, as well as to determine which parts are fit to be retained in the building for further use and which are due for refurbishing or recycling. The materials passport also provides a place for the results of the audits to be recorded, which allows for standards and targets to be set for the rate of recovery and reuse of construction materials.

More than 36 million tonnes of packaging is landfilled. Source: The Guardian
More than 36 million tonnes of packaging is landfilled. Source: The Guardian

Furthermore, construction materials should be designed with their end-of-life in mind. Are they recyclable? Are they re-manufacturable? Are they reusable? The bottom line is, what will happen to them at the end of their life? If the answer is not any of the above three, it’s time for a redesign. Minimizing packaging waste is a matter that is often overlooked – you may have an efficient take-back arrangement for your construction materials, but have you considered what happens to the packages they are set in? Consider a system that enables their reuse either as packaging or as a component, source them pre-used yourself, or innovate any other way that ensures they loop back into the circular economy.

If you have ideas on how to reduce packaging and material waste in the construction industry, share it with the community!

4 Replies to “The Role of a Materials Company in the Circular Construction Industry”

  1. I think builders and recycling companies that are interested in the end-of-lifecycle materials and buy them? Don’t know for sure.. I’m not working for Madaster 😉

  2. Hi Rick,
    That is indeed an admirable initiative to eliminate construction waste, and I believe material passports can and should also be extended to every ‘product’, like laptops, furniture, etc., not just the built environment.
    Do you know what happens with the materials that have been registered with Madaster in the online library once they have reached the end of their life?

  3. Hi Meilani,

    How about Madaster? This new concept and it’s on-growing community wants to reduce construction waste by labeling every item (regardless of it’s constructed yet or not) and connect material passports with online libraries and registers.
    Maybe this is an idea that answers, at least to some extend, to your call for ideas to eliminate construction waste?

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