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Building and the circular economy: a big job?

The building and public works (BTP) sectors account for 70% of the waste generated in France each year, i.e. 228 million tons. Most of this waste is non-hazardous and therefore easily recoverable.

Building and the circular economy: a big job?
Part 1

Background and key information

A heavy environmental impact

The building and public works (BTP) sectors account for 70% of the waste generated in France each year, i.e. 228 million tons. Most of this waste is non-hazardous and therefore easily recoverable. 

If we consider the building sector excluding public works, it is both : 

  • Significant waste producer: 46 million tons per year in France
  • Major contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: about ¼ of French emissions and 1/3 of EU emissions (construction + operation)
  • Major consumer of raw materials (energy, water, minerals, etc.)

Economic and legislative contexts that are forcing the sector's players to rapidly evolve their practices

Making the building sector more circular is not only necessary today from an environmental point of view, but also from an economic and regulatory point of view.

First of all, calls for tenders - especially public ones - are imposing more and more environmental criteria, particularly on waste management, which companies must be able to meet in order to continue winning contracts. 

The building industry has been facing for several months a significant increase in prices and shortages of some raw materials (steel, wood, polystyrene, PVC, ...).

Caption or credits of the photo if needed

The health context significantly reinforces the need to engage in a circular economy of building. Indeed, telecommuting accelerates reflections on the use and reversibility of buildings, and supply issues raise the question of the resilience of territories, especially cities. 

In addition, national and European legislation is increasingly restrictive in terms of the carbon footprint of buildings as well as the traceability and reuse of construction waste. Just to mention the implications of the AGEC law in France, the building industry will have to face many legislative evolutions, among which

  • Creation of an EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) channel for the building industry postponed to 01/01/2023 - initially planned to start on 01/01/2022;
  • Obligation to carry out a Products-Materials-Waste Diagnosis (PMWD) by the project owner (MOA); 
  • Requirement that a deposit slip be issued by the collection facility to the construction company beginning 07/01/2021;
  • Obligation to acquire a share of goods from reuse or recycling through public procurement (see decree of 21/11/2021);
  • Obligation of sorting at source 6 flows on the building sites (wood, mineral fractions, metal, glass, plastic, plaster);
What specific role for communities?
The new ordinance on waste prevention and management (n°2020-920, 29/07/2020) indicates that it is the responsibility of local authorities to ensure the proper sorting of certain construction and demolition waste (mineral fractions, plaster and wood).
This ordinance also allows communities that promote waste prevention and intensify selective collection to benefit from an incentive billing system, the contractual clauses of which are to be defined with the EPCIs or mixed unions and their member communities.
It should be noted that since the adoption of the AGEC law, the competent authorities can ask for the implementation of "re-use zones" intended for SSE actors within waste collection centers. 

Circular transition of the building sector: what are we talking about in concrete terms?

As the circular economy encompasses many concepts and possible applications, various works have been carried out in order to define precisely how this approach could be applied to the building sector. In particular, the 6 levers for deploying the circular economy in the building sector studied by the Fondation Energie Bâtiment (created by ADEME and CSTB) between 2018 and 2020 can be retained:

  • The development of reuse practices (to be dissociated from reuse which implies going through the status of waste);
  • Sourcing local resources and reducing distances; 
  • Extending the life of the material;

  • Reversibility and transformation of use of buildings (economy of functionality);
  • Design for demountability (eco-design of buildings);
  • Capitalization of data throughout the life cycle of materials.
Second part

Solutions and tools under development

Numerous solutions are being developed to meet the challenges of integrating the circular economy into the building and public works sector: strengthening the territorial network of collection points, changes in regulatory obligations, development of innovative technological tools, collaboration between players, etc. 

Here are a few examples of tools available to the construction industry to initiate this type of approach: resource center:

By whom: FNTP & UNICEM
For whom: local authorities, companies & contractors
What: tools (including geolocation) and publications to help clarify the recycling of construction site waste in France
More info

The Reuse Booster: 

By whom: A4MT and several partners
For whom: all construction actors
What: alliance initiated in 2021 to develop and make predictable the demand for reuse materials (via a digital platform), help construction actors to easily prescribe reuse, and support the development of companies specialized in reuse
More info

The CCCA-BTP and Agyre circular economy training program 

By whom: CCCA-BTP, Agyre & WinLab' Innovation Lab
For whom: contracting authorities, project managers, companies & manufacturers
What: training program launched in 2021 for all building and public works actors to introduce them to various circular economy practices
More info on:

3 examples of digital platforms for the reuse of construction materials and equipment:

Cycle Up: a marketplace for the reuse of building and real estate materials dedicated to professionals

Backacia: a marketplace for the reuse of building and public works materials and equipment dedicated to professionals

Re.Source: a marketplace for the reuse of building materials where the sellers are professionals and the buyers are individuals or craftsmen

Third part

Free and useful resources to go further

To deepen your knowledge on the subject, we propose you the replay of the webinar organized by the Metropolis of Greater Paris and Circul'R on September 29th on the theme of the reuse of materials in the building industry. You will have the opportunity to discover the Cycle Up solution mentioned above through a field visit in digital format: 

Replay of the webinar : available HERE

Video to discover the Cycle Up reuse solution: available HERE

Other useful resources :

Integrating the circular economy in the building industry, April 2021, INEC & Enckell Avocats
Circular economy in the building industry, Research summary, Fondation Bâtiment-Energie (FBE)
The building industry in the age of the circular economy, Bâtimétiers n°43-2016, Fédération Française du Bâtiment (FFB)