Shalini Goyal Bhalla, Managing Director, International Council for Circular Economy, and Committee Member, Dry Waste and C&D Waste at NITI Aayog
The concept of a circular economy involves designing out waste and keeping materials and products in use for as long as possible, thereby minimizing the consumption of resources and reducing environmental impacts. The construction industry has been gradually adopting the principles of the circular economy to address its environmental and sustainability challenges. It is increasingly using recycled and renewable materials to reduce the demand for virgin resources and is also exploring options for sourcing materials locally to minimize transportation-related emissions.
Collaboration amongst stakeholdersIn the near future, we could also see construction companies integrating circular economy principles into the design phase and collaboration amongst various stakeholders, including construction companies, suppliers, and local authorities, which would foster knowledge-sharing and innovation for circular practices. Introduction of digital tools and data analytics would be helpful in optimizing material usage, track resource flows, and enable better decision-making for circular strategies. India is looking at policies that would promote recycling of C&D waste. This could generate job and reduce wastage in this sector.
Modular construction reduces waste and enhances resource efficiencyPrefabrication and modular construction techniques enable components to be manufactured off-site and assembled on-site, reducing waste and enhancing resource efficiency. These methods also offer the potential for reusing components in other projects. Designing infrastructure with a focus on longevity and durability can extend the lifespan of buildings and infrastructure, reducing the need for frequent replacements and renovations.
Instead of traditional demolition practices, deconstruction involves carefully disassembling buildings to salvage valuable materials for reuse in other projects. Some companies are providing services such as leasing and maintenance rather than selling products, encouraging the reuse and refurbishment of assets. Construction companies are implementing waste management practices to reduce waste generation and increase recycling rates on construction sites.
Producing and using recycled materialsIncorporating recycled materials like C&D waste, fly ash, plastic waste, glass aggregate, old tyres in construction can offer environmental advantages, cost savings, and resource conservation. Inclusion of these wastes could work as a binder, aggregate, fine aggregate, modifier or substitute of cement and sand in the manufacturing of bricks, tiles, concrete and roads. A material like plastic can add properties like strength, water absorption, and durability. Using such materials will reduce demand for virgin resources, thereby conserving natural resources and minimizing environmental impacts associated with mining, extraction, and processing of raw materials. It will also divert waste from landfills, contributing to improved waste management.
The production of recycled materials generally requires less energy compared to manufacturing virgin materials, leading to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and lowering the carbon footprint of construction projects. Incorporating recycled materials can lead to cost savings in construction projects.
ChallengesThe use of recycled materials in construction drives research % innovation and encourages the development of new markets for recycled products, fostering a circular economy. However, it also comes with certain challenges such as ensuring the consistent quality of recycled materials as variability in composition and properties can affect the performance and durability of construction elements.
Contractors and stakeholders may have limited knowledge about the benefits and appropriate applications of recycled materials. This could potentially impact the lifespan and maintenance requirements of the constructed infrastructure. Transportation of recycled materials to construction sites can add to the project’s environmental footprint and costs. Finally, different regions have various regulations and standards governing the use of recycled materials in construction. Complying with these regulations can be complex and may require additional testing and certifications.
OpportunitiesAdopting circular economy approaches in a high-growth, high-waste sector like the built environment presents a tremendous opportunity for businesses, governments and cities to minimise structural waste and thus realise greater value from the built environment. Materials, products, and components are instead managed in loops, maintaining them at their highest possible intrinsic value. Implementing the principles of circular economy in the built environment through use of new technologies, business models and partnerships, would lower industry costs, reduce negative environmental impacts, and make urban areas more liveable, productive and convenient.
The transition to a circular economy will require the application of systems thinking and new approaches to the way we design, operate, and maintain built environment assets. Such thinking can be seen as a natural extension of the holistic approaches already applied by architects, engineers, and urban planners. As part of promoting an overall system health, a circular economy presents new opportunities for growth that is distributed, diverse and inclusive; generated from organisations small and large, local and global, private and public. This fosters a thriving and resilient ecosystem of enterprises, which helps to create and share value across the built environment industry.