A new research initiative will look into ways to help the UK construction industry address the issue of waste.
We wrote a recent Advantage blog post about the UK’s construction output being up by 41.7% in the third quarter of 2020. Of course, this is good news for the sector and for the economy as a whole. However, with record demand in the UK housing market and an uptick in construction in general (and for house builders in particular) greater output does create a greater need to deal with the issue of waste.
As reported by the Environment Journal, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has given £4.35m to a group of universities to help them establish the Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Minerals-Based Construction Materials.
Analysing at what point materials become waste
The research centre will address the current problems in the construction industry by looking at materials and analysing at what point materials become waste.
They will also work to solve the technical barriers to a circular economy by looking at how business models can encourage a move away from build-use-demolish, with solutions such as designing building modules that can be dismantled and reused and identifying new uses for materials that are currently regarded as worthless once used.
The hope is to move away from the current linear business model of extracting, processing and then discarding raw materials, to one where materials are designed to be continually re-used.
A move away from mineral-based construction materials?
Professor Julia Stegemann, from University College London and Principal Investigator in the project, said:
“We will also study how any changes to practices around minerals use would affect the environment and the economy, such as greenhouse gas emissions, costs to businesses or jobs.
“And we’ll assess how changes in current business models and practices could support the use of less mineral-based construction materials, such as how they might be able to move more quickly to new technologies, or how they might use digital technologies to keep track of materials.”
Professor John Quinton of Lancaster University’s Environment Centre added:
“Maintaining and restoring the soils affected by the construction process is vitally important. Soils affected by construction can play a key role in controlling flooding and pollution and it is vital that we develop better ways of restoring their ability to retain water and contaminants.”
Making existing homes more eco-friendly
Alongside the challenge to make new builds greener, and to produce less waste during the construction process, there is an ongoing debate about how we can make the best use of existing buildings. We’ve written a previous Advantage feature about why councils are calling for additional funds to make existing homes more eco-friendly. And we’ve also looked at how existing buildings could be repurposed to create new affordable housing. While the question of how to build better and more sustainably is an important one, Advantage also expects to see increasingly thoughtful solutions for giving old buildings a new lease of life over the coming months and years.