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Circular economy in the construction sector

*  Source: Ministry of the Environment, Finland (https://ym.fi/en/circular-economy-in-the-construction-sector)

About 50% of the world’s natural resources and 40% of unprocessed energy is used in buildings and construction, and on the global scale the construction sector produces about 35% of the greenhouse gas emissions and 30% of waste. Land use and raw material consumption related to construction have major impacts on both the natural environment and climate.

The circular economy creates huge opportunities for the real estate and construction sector to mitigate climate change and prevent the loss of biodiversity. Processes such as reuse and recycling of construction materials save natural resources and reduce the emissions and waste generated in the manufacture of new products.

Whole lifecycle of buildings into account

The circular economy can be promoted throughout the lifecycle of a building, but this requires commitment from the whole construction chain and sector.

New buildings will be:

  • long-lasting
  • versatile and adaptable
  • easy to maintain and repair
  • made from construction components and materials that can be reused or recycled
  • made so that the use of recycled materials is maximised

A building is kept is a good condition through appropriate and timely repair and maintenance measures. This is how the building serves as intended and for as long as possible. The instructions for the use and maintenance of the building provide a good basis for this.

Something new is built only when truly necessary. The need for more space is primarily met by using the existing spaces and services more effectively. Digital services, including electronic booking systems, facilitate the joint use of buildings and other sharing economy related to the built environment.

Materials recycled and data into use

As an EU Member State Finland was committed to utilising 70% of the building and demolition waste by 2020. However, our present utilisation rate is still less than 60%. About 85% of the building and demolition waste is generated from repair projects and demolition of buildings and about 15% from new buildings.

From the perspective of the circular economy demolished buildings are material banks: materials released from them can be reused or recycled. Materials are burned for energy or otherwise removed from the cycle only if they cannot be utilised in any other way.

For example, crushed concrete can be used to lay the foundation for a road, but a better option would be to use it as raw material for new concrete or even to reuse the material as a concrete element. Alternative uses of demolition materials may require a lot of processing or long transportation distances, which must be taken into account when assessing the climate impacts.

Data on the materials and products used in a building is valuable, and it should be collected, managed and shared all through their life cycle. This data enables the assessment of the carbon footprint of a building, provides guidance for the use, maintenance and repair of the building, and creates the conditions for utilising the materials when the building or parts of it are demolished.

Tools

Guides to sustainable demolition of buildings

Three guides on sustainable building published by the Ministry of the Environment boost the circular economy and climate action in the sector (in Finnish with abstracts in English). The aim is to improve the quality of demolition projects and increase the utilisation of construction and demolition materials.

Materiaalitori – Materials Marketplace

Materiaalitori – Materials Marketplace is a service and meeting point for the producers and users of waste and sidestreams. The service is free of charge.

Measures

Reform of the Land Use and Building Act

The legislative reform will promote the circular economy in many ways. The aim is that in future:

  • low-carbon solutions are the preferred option in new building – climate emissions are taken into account throughout the lifecycle of buildings and especially in material choices
  • requirements concerning the longevity and adaptability of new buildings and how they can be repaired and demolished are included in the Act
  • applicants for construction and demolition permits must compile data on the materials released in demolition
  • digitalisation of data on construction projects makes it easier to reuse and recycle materials
  • Land Use and Building Act reform.fi: Reform of the Land Use and Building Act (in Finnish)

Green Deal on sustainable building between Ministry of the Environment and RAKLI

Agreement on the collection of plastic film and use of recycled material

Measures concerning construction as part of the Plastics Roadmap for Finland

Strategic programme to promote a circular economy

Promoting circular economy in construction in the EU

Finland and the other Nordic countries are taking action with the aim to amend the EU legislation in such a way that facilitates the circular economy transition. The present EU Construction Products Regulation requires that the products used in construction should as a rule carry the CE marking. This is, however, usually not possible in the case of reusable materials and construction components.

The European Commission has launched, on Finland’s initiative, a process to clarify the Construction Products Regulation to allow the use of recycled materials in future.