The Circular Economy follows the principles of reusing and repurposing as much material as possible in its highest value form (following the waste hierarchy as shown in Figure 2) and eliminating waste with the aim of creating a closed loop system as illustrated in Figure 1.
On a global scale, extracting and using raw materials has a major environmental impact through the energy consumed and consequent CO2 emissions, as well as associated issues such as biodiversity loss and water pollution.
In the UK, 60% of annual waste generation is from the construction industry, which also consumes 60% of all new products. It is therefore clear that a circular economy approach within the built environment would have far reaching benefits on many scales.
The Greater London Authority (GLA) sees the Circular Economy as a way forward in minimising the built environment’s impact. Development of a Circular Economy Statement will become mandatory for all Major developments through ‘Policy SI 7 Reducing waste and supporting the circular economy’ within the Publication London Plan (December 2020).
A Circular Economy Statement involves producing a report which must evidence the following:
- Methods for reducing material use.
- How the development will maximise secondary material use.
- How the design enables disassembly and reuse of materials at the end of life stage.
- Minimising construction waste and supporting reuse and recycling on-site or through sharing facilities and where unwanted building material can be used by others.
The report requires several targets to be set and commitments to be made with associated implementation plans. An update is required at completion to report achievement against the targets. This adds new challenges to the design process, particularly how material inputs and outputs will be considered and quantified through the life cycle of a building.
A suggested method of quantification is through dividing the building into ‘layers’ and identifying the quantity of materials within each layer, as well as setting targets for the minimum amount of recycled content. This could also be combined with life-cycle assessment modelling to calculate a benefit in terms of carbon saving.
Whilst for many this is a new and daunting task, incorporating Circular Economy principles has many benefits:
- Material requirements and waste generation are reduced.
- Increase in energy efficiency.
- Ease of maintenance and future proofing is built into the development.
- Cost savings for both the initial building and throughout its life cycle.
At Greengage, we have experience of working with design teams to identify opportunities to adopt circular economy principles in a wide range of developments. Circular Economy Statements are required to be submitted at both pre-application and full application stages – the earlier in the design this is considered, the greater the opportunities that are available to a development project and greater benefit can be achieved from the principles considered.
The Circular Economy is a complex and wide-ranging concept that has been long-used but often not quantified. However, the new requirements within the London Plan will push developments to produce a more structured framework within which circular economy principles can be identified, implemented and where possible, quantified. This will in turn standardise Circular Economy considerations within the built environment and benefits can be achieved both for individual developments and the wider environment.