Circular economy

As the population of the world surpasses 7 billion and continues to rise, the earth’s finite resources must be shared out between a lot more people. The concept of the circular economy has arisen from consideration of material flows and the need to maintain access to those materials and resources for future use. For a circular materials flow, there is a need to maintain, refurbish, reuse and recycle products at end-of-life, feeding the components and materials back into the lifecycle of the original product. With their durable nature, reusability and excellent recyclability, metals lend themselves to the circular economy.

While consideration of the circular economy has tended to focus on products such as fast-moving consumer goods and short-lived electronic goods to date, policy makers are seeking to address the circular economy in construction, where the time between manufacture and end-of-life can be relatively long.

For example, the European Commission has adopted an ambitious new Circular Economy Package to help European businesses and consumers to make the transition to a stronger and more circular economy, where resources are used in a more sustainable way. The proposed actions will contribute to “closing the loop” of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, bringing benefits for both the environment and the economy. The plans aim to extract the maximum value and use from all raw materials, products and waste, fostering energy savings and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A monitoring framework for ten indicators has been established that should help citizens and policy makers see what works and where more action is needed.

By weight, construction and demolition waste is the single biggest waste stream in the EU. While most Member States have reported that they already recover over 70% of their waste, the target set for the EU by 2020, this “recovery” target includes backfilling, which does not keep the value of the materials in the economy and is therefore not conducive to a circular economy.

Closed loop recycling
While high economic value is the main driver for systematic collection and recycling of aluminium building products at end-of-life, with more than 95% of aluminium products used in buildings collected, there is considerable current interest in developing a closed loop recycling scheme for aluminium building products in the UK. Such a closed loop scheme should allow for closer control of the composition of the recycled material, with a high-quality window profile recycled into another high-quality window profile. (Further information on the CAB Closed Loop Recycling Scheme is available here.)