Memo 102 : short guide on circular economy at the European level

As you know, EBC has played crucial to ensure that the construction sector could be prioritized in all the funding programmes of the EU Recovery Fund. From a first assessment of the National Recovery Plans, it seems that different Member States have decided to focus their attention on our sector, especially on the energy retrofitting of existing buildings.

However, the European Union’s focus on our sector will not concern only funding opportunities but also regulatory measures aimed at reaching the EU goals in terms of digitalization, sustainability and energy efficiency. In particular, construction will be the target of future regulatory measures in the field of circular economy which is lately attracting the attention of several environmental NGOs. In order to prepare for these future measures, we have prepared a short guide explaining:

Status quo of the EU regulatory framework in the field of circular economy
Upcoming policies/initiatives related to circular economy at EU level
Challenges for construction SMEs
What NGOs are asking
Good practices

Circular economy background paper

General background:

The construction sector is responsible for nearly 50% of the material use in EU by weight
Main carbon-intensive value chains: steel, cement, plastics, paper, glass and non-ferrous metals.

Existing circular economy policies/initiatives at EU level:

There is mainly two Directives within the “New circular economy package” that was published in 2016 and came into force in July 2018, which are highly relevant to us (EBC Position Paper):

Waste Framework Directive:

Definition of backfilling
Definition of construction and demolition waste
Details with regard to Extended Producer Responsibility schemes (i.a. roles and responsibilities, targets, reporting system)
Prevention of waste (i.a. repair and reuse, reduction of hazardous substances, encouragement to reuse construction materials, request to reduce waste generation in processes related to construction and demolition)
Reuse and recycling (consideration of reuse targets for construction and demolition waste by December 2024, establishment of sorting systems for construction and demolition waste, promotion of selective demolition)

Landfill of Waste Directive

Waste and treatment not acceptable in landfills (proposition of setting of targets for landfill by December 2024)

In addition to those two directives, the following policy initiatives and directives are related to it:

EU construction and demolition waste protocol and guidelines (aims to increase confidence in the C&D waste management process and trust in the quality of C&D recycled materials)
Guidelines for the waste audits before demolition and renovation works of buildings (aims to promote a proper planning and implementation of demolition and renovation activities)
Ecodesign (provides EU-wide rules for improving the environmental performance of products, e.g. household appliances, information and communication technologies or engineering in the form of minimum mandatory requirements for the energy efficiency)
Environmental Product Declaration (consists of a product description, life cycle assessment data and relevant documentation and test certificates)
Level(s) (encourages life cycle thinking at a whole building level, and supports users all the way from design stage through to operation and occupation of a building)​
Circular Economy principles for Building Design (aims to increase the service life of buildings, ease the use of secondary materials and improve resource efficiency in building lifecycle)

Upcoming policies/initiatives related to circular economy at EU level:

Currently there is a lot of discussion around the sustainability and circularity of buildings, which are mainly related to the European Green Deal, which already produced the following action plan, which will form the basis of upcoming policies and initiatives:
A new Circular Economy Action Plan (EBC position paper):
A sustainable product policy legislative initiative (make the Ecodesign framework applicable to the broadest possible range of products and make it deliver on circularity, increase recycled content in products, while ensuring their performance and safety, mobilising the potential of digitalisation of product information, e.g. in digital passports)
Adaptations to Public Procurement (minimum mandatory GPP criteria and targets in sectoral legislation and phase in of compulsory reporting to monitor the uptake of GPP)
Strategy for a Sustainable Built Environment (Revision of Construction Product Regulation to assess the sustainability performance of construction products, promotion of measures to improve the durability and adaptability of built asset (e.g. digital logbooks for buildings), use of Level(s) to integrate life cycle assessment in public procurement and the EU sustainable finance framework, possible revision of material recovery targets set in EU legislation for construction and demolition waste and its material-specific fractions, initiatives to reduce soil sealing, rehabilitate abandoned or contaminated brownfields and increase the safe, sustainable and circular use of excavated soils.)
Enhanced waste policy (set waste reduction targets for specific streams, enhance requirements for extended producer responsibility)
Well-functioning market for secondary raw materials (possible development of EU-wide end-of-waste criteria for certain waste streams, possibility of establishing a market observatory for key secondary materials)

Challenges for construction SMEs with regard to circular economy​

Urban waste sites do not accept small quantities of wastes à poorly tracked long and expensive trips to reach authorized waste sites​
Lack of knowledge regarding selective demolition and hazardousness of substances
Missing knowledge and market penetration of new technologies supporting sorting at small construction sites
Entangled materials (pre-fabrications, insulation techniques)

Difficult market conditions regarding reused products and recycled materials​

Material value often offsets costs of collection and recycling ​
Disposal is a rather simple and inexpensive operation that makes difficult waste sorting processes unattractive
No “real” market for recycled products​
Lack of trust towards recycled products (liability and insurability)

Good practices with regard to circular economy​

ROTOR deconstruction (Belgium): Dismantling, processing and trading of salvaged building components, which reduces the quantity of demolition waste and at the same time offers quality building materials that have a negligible environmental impact.
Centre for Renewable Material (Italy): Carries out a research and operational programme with the aim of fostering links between supply and demand for recovered materials in the building and infrastructure sectors.
EU construction and waste protocol and guidelines (EU): non-binding guidelines to increase confidence in the Construction and Demolition waste management process and the trust in the quality of Construction and Demolition recycled materials.
Guidelines for the waste audits before demolition and renovation works of buildings: non-binding guidance that aims to facilitate and maximize recovery of materials and components from demolition or renovation of buildings and infrastructures for beneficial reuse and recycling, without compromising the safety measures and practices outlined in the European Demolition Protocol.
Circular Economy principles for Building Design (EU): sets non-building principles for the sustainable design of buildings with the aim to generate less construction and demolition waste as well as facilitate the reuse and recycling of construction materials, products and building elements, and help reduce the environmental impacts and life cycle costs of the building.
Checklist waste management plan from EREK (EU): The checklist aims to help reduce waste related costs and improve construction site efficiency by optimising waste management.
Circular Demolition Project Verification Scheme (Netherlands): Project that provides an additional and voluntary project verification of a demolition project on the theme of circularity and the sale of demolition materials.
Committed Craftsmen/Responsible Company (France): Dynamic promotion for craftsmen seeking to develop more sustainable practices.
Madaster (Germany): Online platform to register materials and products used in buildings. This makes re-use easier, encourages smart design and eliminates waste à building as material bank.

National databases related to circular economy​ in construction

Ökobau.dat (Germany): Database for construction materials and building services
Base-Carbone (France): LCA database that includes the construction sector
Arcadia Project (Italy): Development of a LCA database for 15 supply chains including some from the construction sector

Proposals by the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform

Integrated policies and governance initiatives

Supply of materials for the construction sector should be related to the availability of substitute secondary raw materials, also considering stocks present in the buildings and their release over time considering an urban mining of the built environment.

The potential substitution of raw materials by residues produced in other industrial sectors should be investigated and pursued in order to identify the current reuse rate, the potential not yet exploited as well as the operational constrains and the critical issues.
Avoiding waste generation by privileging building for deconstruction and re-use, recycling of not re-usable C&D material, backfilling.
Adoption of a comprehensive perspective, based life cycle thinking approach for sustainable assessment.
Support to the circular use of bio-based products in the C&D sector.
Implementation of Green Public Procurement and certification systems.

Integrated metrics initiative

Definition of indicators for circular economy in the C&D value chain (if not available) will be very useful to measure and monitor economic circularity and the efficient use of resources.
Creation of datasets about construction & extractive sectors to measure the circularity in terms of Life Cycle Thinking à will support the development and regulation of public policies promoting the acquisition of environmental labels/certifications.
Use of existing indicators to measure environmental performances with the aim of reducing environmental impacts taking into account supply chain activities.

Interconnection initiatives (construction/extraction)

Development and promotion of innovative tools for raw materials traceability and an identity card of complex products in order to implement an efficient and effective material detection and separation as well as a safe and efficient product dismantling and sorting enabling highly selective recycling.
Development and promotion of platforms for data sharing to provide support and information to all those involved throughout the various stages of construction activities.
Development and promotion of platforms to create and support the market of building materials, including the possibility to compare the technical and environmental performance of products.
Development and promotion of tools and guidelines to make workers of the public sector and policy aware about benefits and possible criticalities of circular use of resources.
Development and promotion of information Management Systems incorporating concepts such as material passports, key performance circular indicators liaising with the EU LEVEL initiative, Building Information Modelling.

Territorial initiatives

Support of local ecosystems
Assessment of resources that can be recovered from scraps from extractive sector (quarries and mines), from active and abandoned sites.

Educational initiatives

Promotion of lifelong learning, especially focused on issues such as the recovery of materials and metals from industrial waste as well as entrepreneurial and managerial education.
Promotion of courses aimed to high-level professional qualifications, ensuring that managers have the appropriate knowledge and skills to tackle the complex challenge of resource circularity in the construction sector.

Definition of specific school programs on the sustainable management of raw materials, at different education levels.

Citizen awareness raising initiatives

Focus on lasting products, getting things local and getting clean techniques and products as well as disowning ownership.

The National Guild of Mastercraftsmen is Irelands sole represative of EBC.

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