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Jessica Johnson
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What does resource efficiency mean for construction?

The future of the European manufacturing industry is linked to the access to resources in an easy and economical way. That is why “Resource Efficiency” and the “sustainable use of natural resources”, key priorities being tackled at EU level, are important to the concrete industry.

In the case of the construction industry and construction materials, the sustainable use of natural resources can be considered a combination of the following factors:

  • Efficient use of resources throughout the whole life cycle, from extraction and manufacturing, to construction, use, and end of life stages
  • Ensuring the availability of resources for future generations
  • Use of resources in a manner appropriate to the reserves available; scarcity and abundance are critical factors. As a result, sustainability needs to be approached in different ways for different resources
  • When applying the waste hierarchy (prevention, re-use, recycling, recovery, disposal), options which deliver the best overall environmental, social and economic outcomes should be encouraged.  These options must be assessed from a whole life cycle perspective.

Several policy frameworks which deal with resource efficiency and construction and demolition (C&D) waste have been presented and/or are under discussion at EU level.

Concrete’s contribution to a resource-efficient Europe

The most sustainable waste is that which you don’t create. Recycling is usually considered as the solution to waste; however, following the principles of the Waste Hierarchy, “prevention” and “minimisation” of waste are the first choices. The concrete sector applies the principles of the waste hierarchy throughout its value chain: It is manufactured using natural materials which are generally abundant and locally available. It can be recycled 100% at the end of its life. Recycling can be both closed-loop (re-use in the same application) and open-loop (re-use in another application). Both open-loop and closed-loop recycling have benefits in terms of resource efficiency: one is not necessarily better than the other as they both prevent the extraction of virgin raw materials.

Achieving the right policy framework

The European Concrete Platform firmly believes that policies relating to resource efficiency and C&D waste should:

  • Assess the impact of C&D waste from a whole life cycle perspective from the social, economic and environmental points of view
  • Prioritise the collection and treatment of C&D waste by material importance (i.e. whether it is a scarce and/or a hazardous resource), rather than by mass
  • Indicators to assess resource efficiency should take account of both quantity and scarcity, such as the indicator developed by the University of Dundee.
  • In the event financial measures are imposed, funds raised should be used to foster research and achieve an economically viable system in the medium term.
  • Recognise the concrete industry as one which applies the principles of resource efficiency
  • Recognise present and future efforts by the concrete industry in applying the waste hierarchy as an example for other sectors.

These ideas are developed in more detail in the following paper