Giving sustainable construction a strong platform
A new software platform by an EU-funded project will help Europe's construction sector to develop new sustainable and cost-effective supply chains that reduce waste, make use of high quality recycled products and create new market opportunities.
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The construction and demolition sector accounts for about 25-30 % of all waste generated in the EU, which means that achieving resource efficiencies here can have a significant environmental and economic impact. Potential also exists to increase recycling rates of valuable secondary raw materials from industrial sectors including steel, aluminium, concrete, wood and plastics.
“The estimated average recycling rate is around 46 %, which means there is still a significant gap to the 70 % target set up by the EU’s Waste Directive,” explains Blanca Juez from Acciona Construccion in Spain, who along with her colleague Daniel Hiniesto is coordinating the ongoing EU-funded FISSAC project. “Our objective is to demonstrate a new zero waste approach along construction value chain and help move the sector towards the circular economy.”
Construction businesses will be able to use the FISSAC ICT Platform, which is under development, to identify other sectors that could recycle their waste materials, or sell them waste materials in turn. The project team hopes that the adoption of more sustainable business models in construction will help to achieve at least a 15 % reduction in waste generation, a 12 % gain in waste treatment productivity and a reduction beyond 20 % in non-renewable, primary raw material intensity.
Encouraging better business models
This objective will primarily be achieved through ‘industrial symbiosis’: a network of product, by-product and waste exchanges that reduce ecological footprints of processes and waste products. Project partners will promote new waste integration technologies, new recycled products and develop an innovative model and software platform tool that can be spread to different countries and sectors.
“We want to encourage the development of new low carbon and sustainable business models that currently do not exist, as well as new high grade construction applications that use secondary raw materials,” says Juez.
The idea is that new value chains that eliminate unnecessary waste and create new markets for recycled construction products can then be replicated across other sectors and regions, bringing economic and environmental benefits to as wide an audience as possible. The project also hopes to ensure that European SMEs are at the forefront of sustainable construction.
“SMEs are very well represented in both eco-industries and the construction sector,” notes Juez. “We have seven SMEs with different profiles involved in FISSAC. These businesses will all be able to take advantage of products and services emanating from FISSAC’s results. A European-level cooperation project like FISSAC can really help to open up new markets for SMEs and create new business opportunities.”
The project team began by assessing the feasibility of achieving a zero waste construction sector and identifying opportunities for creating a market for recycled construction materials.
“During the first 18 months of FISSAC we managed to define the technical requirements of secondary raw materials to be used in industrial tests,” says Hiniesto. “We also received positive feedback from industry on the quality of these secondary raw materials.”
Work has also been carried out on product eco-design and certification, with a view to eventual commercialisation. Next, resource efficiency indicators will be established in order to measure reductions, and ‘living labs’ set up to gather together civil society, policymakers, producers and researchers.
This is because the FISSAC project, due for completion in February 2020, aims not only to increase industrial competitiveness and reduce associated environmental impacts, but also ensure that society as a whole benefits from Europe’s transition towards the circular economy.
“This transition will create new jobs, but also eliminate certain jobs,” says Hiniesto. “The FISSAC project will contribute towards novel training in environmental and sustainability issues, and help to raise awareness in all lines of work in order to ensure that the positive impact of sustainability is maximised.”