Circular economy

Circular Economy in the Built Environment

2024 presents a stark reality: overflowing landfills, plastic-choked oceans, and toxic emissions spewing from incinerators. Our “take-make-waste” approach is unsustainable, depleting resources, generating mountains of waste, and compromising the air we breathe. The staggering statistic of over two billion tons of municipal solid waste generated annually, projected to increase by a staggering 70% by 2050, underscores the urgency for a solution.

Enter the circular economy, a transformative alternative. This paradigm shift breaks free from the linear consumption cycle, reimagining how we live. Instead of the singular, resource-intensive path, the circular economy embraces a closed-loop system. Products are designed with longevity, reusability, and recyclability in mind, minimizing waste and maximizing their lifespan.

Linear vs Circular economy

A linear economy is a traditional economic model that follows a one-way flow. This model involves extracting resources from the Earth, processing them into products, and disposing. of them as waste after consumption. Unfortunately, this approach lacks sustainability and neglects environmental consequences. The circular economy is not just a model; it’s a shift in thinking. It moves beyond discarding materials as waste, opting for a regenerative approach. Natural resources are cherished and continuously replenished, while products and materials are lovingly kept in use through maintenance, reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing, recycling, and composting. This cyclical system tackles pressing global challenges like waste, pollution, biodiversity loss, and climate change head-on.

The time for action is now. By embracing the circular economy, we can chart a course towards a more sustainable future, ensuring the well-being of our planet and ourselves for generations to come. It’s a journey that requires collaboration, innovation, and a commitment to leaving behind a legacy of mindful resource management and environmental responsibility.

Circular Economy

Circular Buildings

Embracing the circular economy, a circular building is a specific type of structure that is built with the principles of the circular economy in mind. This means that it emphasizes adaptability, material efficiency, and a closed-loop approach to resources. The main goal of a circular building is to minimize waste, promote reuse and recycling, and reduce environmental impact throughout its entire life cycle. According to the Circular Built Environment Playbook by the World Green Building Council, certain key themes guide the design of circular buildings.

Key Themes:                                                                                           

Building and Construction Material

The idea of a “Material Passport” transforms the traditional linear process of taking materials from a quarry and then disposing of them into a dynamic system of reusing materials. These passports work like birth certificates for buildings and provide details about the components used in construction, which promotes sustainability through tools like Lifecycle Analysis and Environmental Product Declarations. “Buildings as Material Banks” emphasizes this shift by envisioning structures as sources of reusable, recyclable, or upcyclable materials, which increases the demand for repurposed building components.

Material Take Back programs, initiated by manufacturers, contribute to this circular system by collecting used products for reintroduction into the manufacturing cycle. This dual benefit of reducing new material needs and encouraging better design for disassembly and reuse. The principles of “Urban Mining and Material Cascading” add another layer, as urban mining reclaims materials from waste streams, treating city-generated waste as a valuable resource. Material cascading prioritizes reusing products over multiple lifetimes, minimizing energy recovery to mitigate carbon emissions. For instance, recovered wood from deconstructed buildings or demolition sites can be repurposed into CLT (cross-laminated timber) and Glulam (glue-laminated timber). These mass timber products serve as sustainable alternatives to carbon-intensive virgin materials, displacing the need for newly harvested timber.

The focus on sustainability extends to the local level through “Locally Sourced Materials,” which urges a reduction in environmental impact by minimizing energy-intensive material production and transportation. This approach not only supports environmental sustainability but also fosters entrepreneurial activity.

Design and Retrofit

In the design and retrofit arena, circular buildings embrace strategies such as “Design for Reuse,” or adaptive reuse promoting the repurposing of existing structures to minimize emissions and address urban sprawl challenges. “Design for Disassembly” prioritizes early-stage design for disassembly and deconstruction to recover the residual value of a building at its end-of-life stage, creating structures that function as material banks. “Design out Waste” centres on efficient resource use from the design stage, ensuring waste re-enters the economy through reuse and recycling rather than contributing to landfills. Modular construction is a great example of the “Design for Reuse” strategy. This approach involves creating standardized building parts or modules that can be easily assembled, disassembled and repurposed. By incorporating modular construction, buildings can be more adaptable, sustainable, and resource efficient. Which aligns with the core tenets of circularity.

Regenerate Nature

Beyond construction, circular buildings actively engage with nature through practices like “Biomimicry,” drawing inspiration from natural resource efficiency to close material loops in urban areas. This holistic approach also extends to “Protecting Water Resources,” emphasizing efficiency and quality at all stages of a building’s lifecycle, with a specific focus on water use reporting during construction and operation.

Levers for Change

As powerful levers for change, circular buildings encourage innovative business models to maximize the use of underused products and structures. Certification and labelling schemes aligning with circular principles offer guidance while addressing global gaps in education and skills development being vital for the effective implementation of the circular economy concept. In essence, the evolution toward circular buildings embodies a transformative journey, embracing sustainability, adaptability, and a harmonious relationship with the environment.

Challenges

The shift towards circular buildings is a significant undertaking. There are many challenges to overcome, such as complicated regulations, cost competitiveness, and traditional linear thinking. However, every obstacle presents an opportunity. To pave the way for alternative materials, we need standardization and incentives. To navigate the uncharted territory of circular design, we need advanced tools and knowledge.

In conclusion, the journey towards circular buildings signifies a transformative path, embracing sustainability, adaptability, and a harmonious relationship with the environment. The circular economy transcends technical innovation; it demands a shift in our mindset. It’s about re-evaluating our relationship with the planet, shifting from being consumers to becoming stewards.