Construction Circular Economy Has Potential for Big Impacts

Jun 17, 2016

The construction industry, as a major consumer of resources and a large contributor to waste streams around the world, has major economic and environmental impacts. A new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) highlights the potential for the industry to improve those impacts by taking the leap toward operating in a construction circular economy.

The circular economy model addresses the problem of the tremendous environmental demands construction makes on our natural resources. Development of the built environment uses as much as 30 percent of raw materials extracted domestically. Furthermore, 40 percent of solid waste in the U.S. comes from construction and destruction, and recycling only recovers about one-third of waste materials from building and demolition. Considering the value of building materials like minerals, metals, and lumber, the two-thirds of waste materials that goes unrecovered represents significant economic waste and serious pressure on landfills.

Closing the Loop to Minimize Waste

A construction circular economy encourages builders to reclaim, refurbish, repurpose, reuse, and recycle more construction waste. It starts with more careful planning and product design. Santiago Castagnino, co-author of the WEF report, says, “If you also optimize the planning and the processes, you could easily end up cutting costs by 15 percent and reducing the completion time by as much as 30 percent.”

The savings and productivity could mean huge developments for the economy. World Economic Forum’s Dr. Michael Max Buehler told Environmental Leader that the opportunity could be as much as $1 trillion in new innovation, jobs and economic development.

Recycling products back to their raw materials is the last step in the loop. By returning a product to its components, all the energy and labor used to create it is lost. Even then, the recycling process rarely recovers all the valuable material. To minimize the need for recycling, the circular economy emphasizes designing products with longer useful lives and ease of refurbishment in mind. Of course, eventually components break down. Then, circular models support reclaiming and recycling as much material as possible.

The Role of Manufacturers

Currently, construction waste can be full of unknown and potentially hazardous materials. The role of companies like Southwire is to manufacture safer products that are suited for reuse, refurbishment, and recycling. To reduce waste at the jobsite, we already offer both reel-less packaging and credits for the return of reusable reels. We also have a goal to incorporate sustainability principles (including reusability) into the research of at least 65 percent of all new R&D projects by year-end 2016.


You can read more about the 30 Steps to a Circular Construction Industry outlined in the WEF report here, and learn more about Southwire’s sustainable product development in our Sustainability Report.