Charlotte Hughes from Marley Eternit discusses the increasing focus on circular building and the role merchants and manufacturers have to play in helping to reduce construction waste

A recent Circular Economy report by Arup* reveals some staggering figures about the sheer size of the waste problem in UK building.  The report states that, as an industry, we consume more than 400 million tonnes of materials every year, making construction the nation’s largest consumer of natural resources.  It is also the biggest contributor of waste, responsible for more than 30% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions, with waste management and disposal costs taking up an incredible 30% of construction firms’ pre-tax profits.

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that increasing focus is being paid to reducing waste within building projects, with many starting to recognise the benefits that circular economy principles could bring to the construction industry.

What is the circular economy?

In a traditional economy we use raw materials to manufacture products that are then disposed of at the end of their life, but this is now recognised as unsustainable.  With the circular economy, rather than there being a start and end point, the lifecycle of a product is cyclical.  The useful life of products is extended and materials re-enter the process through re-use, re-manufacturing and recycling.

For members of the European Union, the EU Circular Economy Package sets out some strict waste reduction and recycling targets that must be achieved by Member States by 2030.  While it remains to be seen what approach the UK Government will take following Brexit, many commentators believe the UK will have to comply with the circular economy targets to trade with the EU.

When we talk about the circular economy we usually think of consumer goods with a relatively short life.  However, many of the resource efficiency principles of the circular economy approach can be applied to the construction industry, where the product is actually the building and all of the construction materials form the components.  Some architects and contractors are already starting to consider how to design a building so that at the end of its life, all its components and materials can be re-used, re-manufactured or recycled.

How can merchants help?

While this approach is still relatively new to construction, merchants and manufacturers are already taking steps to improve resource efficiency and starting to incorporate some circular economy principles, to help housebuilders and contractors send less waste to landfill and improve re-use and recycling in their projects.

For example, at the end of last year, Travis Perkins Group was part of a collaboration to design and construct a demonstration building out of fully reusable components to demonstrate the concept of the circular economy at the London Design Festival.  The project was developed by Arup, Frener & Reifer, BAM Construction and The Built Environment Trust, with Travis Perkins contributing reusable timber flooring, tagged with a unique QR code containing all the information needed for reuse.

We spoke to Jez Cutler, head of sustainability at Travis Perkins Group, to find out more: 

“As major suppliers of building materials, merchants like us have a big role to play in using resources in the most efficient and responsible way possible.  We are working to minimise the amounts we send to landfill and are helping our customers to do the same.

“The circular economy is the sleeping giant in construction.  Right now it is already possible to do some simple product and packaging take-back which helps reduce costs.  However, it’s foreseeable that product passports, performance contracts and even using buildings as materials banks, could transform the construction sector’s resource efficiency.

“We are taking steps to adapt our business model to a circular economy by adopting a lifecycle approach, starting with asking suppliers of material intensive products such as gypsum and timber sheet materials to provide Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) when they sell through us.  We believe that this level of disclosure helps efficiency gains in manufacturing.  In addition, we already repatriate, recover and recycle packaging materials from our own, and some customer, operations and we also have waste to power and supplier re-manufacturing partnerships.”

What are manufacturers doing?

Indeed there is only so much a merchant can do and to some extent, they rely on manufacturers to ensure they are committed to sourcing raw materials and managing their supply chains in a responsible and sustainable manner.  As Jez Cutler told us: “Manufacturers can help merchants work towards a more circular approach to building by continually improving manufacturing resource efficiency, increasing recycled content of products and considering how they can support product take-back and re-stocking.  It is a difficult but beneficial model, which is going to require collaboration between suppliers, customers and merchants.”

Therefore, it is important that manufacturers, like Marley Eternit, are committed to continually improving resource efficiency and product lifecycle is a particularly important area to focus on.  Our approach towards responsible sourcing encompasses the complete lifecycle of our products, from raw material extraction and manufacturing, to the supply of products to customers and their disposal at the end of life. We take responsible sourcing very seriously and all of our roof tiles and slates have BES 6001 accreditation. 

As a business, we have an ambitious target to divert 100% of waste from landfill – and following good progress in 2016, the business is now diverting 90%, with the Burton and Glasgow factories already meeting the 100% target.  Much of this material is reprocessed and fed back into the production process with the remainder diverted and recycled for other uses, such as a sub-base for road construction.

As well as reducing waste and improving the recycled content of our roof tiles, we also offer a range of fully recyclable fibre cement slates.  If customers ask merchants for a 100% recyclable roof covering or cladding, then fibre cement slate is a very good option.  Not only are our fibre cement slates a very sustainable product in life, with BES 6001 ‘Very Good’ and an A+ rating in the BRE Green Guide, they can be fully recycled at the end of life.  Fibre cement products can be ground down and used to replace limestone and shale in clinker production, essential ingredients for Portland cement, thereby re-entering the construction supply chain and closing the loop. 

Circular building methods also focus on reducing the reliance on wet trades and increasing offsite construction to reduce waste on site.  Not only can fibre cement slates be mechanically fixed on the roof, they can also be used for cladding and vertical slates, such as our Vertigo facades system, helping to reduce the reliance on bricklayers.  As a lightweight material, they are also ideal for offsite construction where reducing the weight of roofing and cladding materials is critical.

All of our fibre cement slates have full product lifecycle assessment data available through an EPD and we have made a long-term commitment to have all of our products assessed for the purpose of providing comprehensive EPDs for the whole range.  In addition, all of our roofing products already have a calculated carbon footprint rating. The provision of this data enables greater transparency of environmental impacts associated with our products, helping to facilitate a more informed and responsible product choice.

Being able to segregate and identify the raw materials at the end of life is a key part of circular economy building and this requires collaboration throughout the supply chain to ensure materials can be reused.  BIM is an important facilitator for this, containing all of the information about products and their lifecycle.  We have BIM objects available for all of our roof tiles and slates to help identify the products for their recycling and re-use at the end of life.  

As the largest contributor of waste, construction is a key industry in moving away from a traditional ‘take, make and waste’ approach, towards a more sustainable circular model of re-use and recycling and zero waste to landfill.  However, to achieve this, it will require close co-operation from the whole construction supply chain, from architects, builders and contractors, to merchants and manufacturers, all working together to put more focus on product lifecycles and resource efficiency, as well as firm Governmental commitment to waste reduction targets post-Brexit.


* The Circular Economy in the Built Environment, Arup -

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