Guest blogger, Lydia Dutton, is Co-Founder of tech start up LOOP – a circular economy platform for the built environment. Prior to LOOP, Lydia led sustainability at Argent – with particular focus on the King’s Cross regeneration project.
Imagine a world where you can access a global network of construction materials, from steel girders to complete ventilation systems – all in perfect working order, yet cheaper than buying new?
That’s the future that LOOP is helping to create by building a global materials bank where organisations can design and plan buildings with resources already in circulation.
The idea of circularity is not a new one, with sites like Freecycle enabling people to pass on items they no longer need – but it’s never been applied to the construction industry with a global vision.
Action is required. In 2014, the UK sent over 200 million tonnes of waste to landfill; 26 per cent of this came from the construction sector. Whilst recovery rates are high, much of this waste is unused material, sent straight to recycling or landfill because of over-ordering or poor storage. Furthermore, where Cat A fit-outs do not meet occupier requirements, fitted, yet unused equipment and materials are immediately flowing down the waste hierarchy
In fact, around 13 per cent of construction materials go unused and are discarded, when they would have had value on other project sites. Factor in material and labour costs and the true price of waste is well in excess of £1,300/tonne (Resource Efficient Scotland). Given that the European construction industry generated 871m tonnes of waste in 2016, the true cost of waste exceeds £1 trillion.
Too often, however, our industry sees reusing materials as too time-consuming and expensive to merit the effort. While environmental standards such as WRAP and BREEAM have helped, there is still much more that we can do to reduce waste (including water and carbon), encourage recycling and, pertinently for the construction sector and its clients, bring down costs.
We can learn a great deal from the ‘circular economy’ by reducing waste through optimising resources already in circulation, enabling organisations to benefit from generating a revenue for their assets no longer required and others benefiting from lower than virgin material costs. Key to this is to give a value for components and materials – in existing structures and new builds – by giving them “materials passports” and provide a platform where they can be bought, sold or otherwise exchanged.
That is precisely what we’re doing at LOOP, creating a global platform for material optimisation, connecting the supply of materials which would be otherwise underutilised with demand.
Great strides have been made to engage the industry to consider material flows before they are incorporated into a building. By introducing LOOP material passports, value can be attributed during the project planning phases to ensure the optimum routes for those materials are identified and acted on, ahead of getting to site for development, refurbishment and deconstruction.
LOOP currently provides a platform for components that require no modification, such as steel, glass and HVAC infrastructure, but with some creative thinking, alternative uses for some material could be found without major modifications.
The idea of the circular economy has been slow to come to the construction sector, but the potential benefits are huge including reduced costs, embodied carbon, transport emissions, waste charges and landfill tax, and increased flexibility to name a few.
Providing the LOOP Platform and Material Passports is only the first step. To achieve its full potential, we need both industry and government to commit to “circularity” – particularly in public procurement.
In the construction sector, we can sometimes be guilty of following the letter, but not the spirit of environmental regulations. My message to stakeholders is that by embracing circularity, you can build better, more affordably, and more sustainably. We’d love to have you on board – visit http://loop-hub.co.uk/ to find out how you can get involved.