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A circular future for construction and infrastructure

Matt Nichols, Divisional Director at Reconomy discusses the opportunity with recycled materials in infrastructure and construction projects:

I’ve been working on waste and resource management strategies with businesses of different shapes and sizes in the infrastructure sector for some years now. We’ve seen a great many advancements in recent times, and as we look forward I believe there is a very clear and specific opportunity within the sector to better utilise recycled fill materials for construction projects. Tuesday’s article in Circular regarding The Scottish Infrastructure Circular Economy Forum (SICEF) “calling time” on construction’s “take-make-waste” culture highlighted several important points and pleasingly, expressed a clear desire to “accelerate a recycled and secondary raw materials market”.

A factor that should help on the journey toward this goal is the considerable improvement in quality grading methods in recent years. Sadly at the moment all too often, virgin materials are utilised for seemingly no better reason than it being apparently easier, when the truth of the matter is they are non-sustainable and more expensive. So, with some further work on educating and engaging buyers and project teams to change these well-ingrained sourcing habits, the foundations are already there to start better harnessing the opportunity for recycled materials.

There is also a bigger picture, where the use of recycled materials alongside other operational approaches can have a positive impact on the circular economy and sustainability on many levels. When coupled with the principle of back-hauling, where dug materials are deposited and recycled reinstatement materials are stocked and collected from the same location, the benefits of recycled materials, reduced transport carbon, improved productivity and reduced health and safety risk form a compelling and comprehensive argument for change.

Bringing the waste management provider into the mix can then add further value in the quest for a circular economy strategy. When engaged early enough in the construction project planning process, waste management businesses like Reconomy can create a full and structured Site Waste Management Plan (SWMP). With time to line up the correct services and supply chain options, it is possible to ensure that other waste streams like wood, metals, packaging and pallets are managed to deliver 100% recycled or recovered solutions.

It is good to see the conversation around recycled materials in the construction and infrastructure sector gaining momentum, and something that appears to have come out of the current crisis is an acknowledgement from businesses, and individuals, that we need to think more sustainably around how we utilize resources. We’ll all have a part to play in this as activity levels turn upwards, and with construction having such an essential role in economic recovery, now is an excellent time to be thinking of new ways to do things and collaborating with the waste industry to achieve lasting change.


Circular, “Scottish infrastructure leaders call time on construction’s ‘take-make-waste’ culture”, Darrel Moore, 16th June 2020