Building a circular construction sector is hard, but it is happening

September 17, 2019

The construction sector consumes 42 billion tonnes of resources annually, making it the most material-intensive sector. The construction sector also produces about one-third of all global waste, most of which is not recycled or reused, but ends up in landfills. This is a known problem faced by actors across the industry value chain. Changing one of the largest industries in the world is no easy feat, but change is already happening. 

Circle Economy has teamed up with ROCKWOOL one of the frontrunners, committed to change the sector. ROCKWOOL recognises the potential of the circular economy and has decided to join Circle Economy's member community. They aim to address the global environmental and social challenges caused by the industry while simultaneously creating new commercial opportunities. The concept of a circular economy is not new to ROCKWOOL. For instance, the group upcycles secondary materials from industries such as the utilities and metallurgical sector. ROCKWOOL also recycles its own waste in closed loops and designs products for extended life spans and nearly indefinite recycling thereby leveraging the natural recyclability and durability of stone wool. 

"Our membership with Circle Economy can help us better understand the opportunities we have in our value chain and help us connect with other stakeholders so the impact can be wider,”

Dorte Vigsø, Sustainability Manager, ROCKWOOL Group.

To further improve ROCKWOOL's operations, Circle Economy assessed the company's value chain and identified opportunities to increase impact. Applying a system mapping methodology to measure and assess circularity across ROCKWOOL’s value chain, from resource extraction to end of life, Circle Economy identified a range of opportunities to build on existing activities. It also showed that ROCKWOOL has the potential to become fully circular in the future. 

"We need better incentives to improve the management of demolition and construction waste. Investigating ROCKWOOL's value chain helped us understand the structural issues holding back the industry. Far-reaching collaboration across the value chain and with legislators is needed to move forward."

Marc de Wit,  Director Strategic Alliances, Circle Economy

Looking at the industry as a whole, a lot still needs to happen. The collaboration with ROCKWOOL uncovered three key levers to improve circularity: (1) Increase the sourcing of non-virgin and regenerative materials for both raw materials and energy supply; (2) Develop more high-value and circular product applications that can be integrated into modular, adaptive building components; (3) Reclaim more waste from the construction sector through ROCKWOOL’s internal recycling and partnerships with other players. 

The biggest steps towards circularity can only be taken with the support of and collaboration with legislators and value chain partners. Circle Economy found multiple opportunities for ROCKWOOL to improve the circularity within its own operations. However, structural barriers in legislation and other parts of the value chain impede the development of the necessary recycling infrastructure for construction and demolition waste to become fully circular. ROCKWOOL and Circle Economy call on both legislators and value chain partners to join forces in developing pragmatic solutions to overcome the identified barriers. Doing so will drastically improve economic incentives for a circular utilization of construction and demolition waste thereby unlocking the full potential of the circular economy model. To start the dialogue, ROCKWOOL is open to discuss the opportunities identified in the report via and through their Circle Economy membership.

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