Refurbishment is at the Heart of the Circular Economy

Far from being the latest business fad, the circular economy presents a very real opportunity for refurbishment companiesYou’re already part of the circular economy whether you realise it or not & in fact, refurbishment is a core value. The circular economy offers far-reaching solutions to stamp out what are perceived to be the construction industry’s ‘bad habits’ & such as a narrow focus on new builds and new materials, which leaves waste and inefficiency in its wake.In the ‘linear economy’, a product is designed, built from new materials, used and then consigned to the nearest landfill. In other words, it’s an economy that many believe is simply unsustainable.Construction and the Circular EconomyIf the linear economy is based on a finite ‘cradle-to-grave’ mentality, the circular economy instead focuses on an infinite ‘cradle-to-cradle’ philosophy, where waste can be repurposed and reused. It’s an approach that lies at the heart of the refurbishment sector, where existing buildings and interiors are refurbished instead of being ripped out and replaced, extracting maximum value out of every single construction element, whether it is reused or recycled.WRAP’s Built Environment Circular Economy guidance promotes the designing out of waste in construction, developing resource-efficient products and maximising the reuse and repurposing of existing materials and structures. To achieve this, WRAP states that the entire industry must work together at every stage of the construction process & from raw material extraction and manufacturing through to construction and recycling. This in turn will drive down the industry’s consumption and waste figures & the sector is currently responsible for the use of 60% of all UK materials and one third of all waste arisings.From Ethos to RealityHow refurbishers and fitters can make this approach work for their own projects is critical, and key lessons can be learned from large-scale operations that have embraced the circular economy model:The Stanley Building refurb/rebuild project at Seven Pancras Square was fitted with reused windows, fireplaces and floorboards from a neighbouring demolished building, removing the need for costly, inefficient new builds.A 1980s commercial office block in Islington eliminated 39,000 tonnes of aggregate waste by retaining and reusing the structure’s existing concrete frame block.This approach can be applied to small-scale projects as well, where ripping out structures and materials can be avoided entirely and more cost-effective cosmetic repairs made instead:Repair specialist Plastic Surgeon deploys fillers, hardeners and polish to restore and mend a huge array of damaged surfaces, from period wall tilings and dented warehouse steel doors to heavily-worn hotel shower trays. The company claims its work saves over 1,700 tonnes of damaged products from becoming landfill waste each year and is a far more cost-effective solution for its clients.Dealing with Existing MisconceptionsQuestions remain though about the challenges presented by the circular economy & namely time and cost, along with the quality and durability of the reused/recycled products and materials themselves. However, with the price of new materials rising & sand, cement and timber have all increased during the past five years & turning to recycled or reusable materials is increasingly making more commercial sense. Concerns about durability are well founded, but materials such as plasterboard can be effectively sourced, recycled and reused.Perhaps the biggest issue facing the refurbishment community is the need for developers to ‘design for deconstruction’ when creating building plans in the first place. It is important that materials from a building project are designed to be removed with ease at a later stage so they can be reused effectively in the future. It is also crucial to plan for the reuse of all products at end of life &  something that not every construction project considers.A Long Way To GoConstruction companies, both big and small, must begin to adopt such strategies to ensure the continued sustainability of the sector. The experience of Ian Strachan, the founder of building waste reuse business Yooz, may exemplify the strides the industry still needs to make to fully embrace the ‘reuse mentality’ at the heart of the circular economy.He was offered a 10,000 tonne steel roof from the London Olympics for reuse at a sports centre for people with disabilities in Scotland. As he revealed to the Guardian though: €œThe roof would have been so ideal for the centre, but we were building it near Glasgow and the logistics of getting it to us were impossible. It was cheaper to buy a new one in the end. When new stuff is being built like this€¦ there really needs to be more thought about what will happen to those materials [in the future].€That said, the construction industry is continuing to change and evolve, and businesses are increasingly encouraged to make good use of existing resources. As practices shift more and more towards the circular model, refurbishment projects have a head start.TakeawaysExplore options for the reuse of existing materials to drive down the escalating cost of new materials.Boost your reputation in the marketplace by demonstrating your focus on sustainability and waste reduction.Work in partnership with all stakeholders in your supply chain to implement the circular economy model within your operations; all stand to benefit in the long term.Discover how to drive down waste from the beginning to end of your construction project. Download: The Ultimate How-To SWMP guide for the Circular Economy