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Circular Econony in the Construction Industry

The construction sector is one of the main sectors associated with various environmental impacts (namely the consumption of natural resources and the emissions produced). It stands out – negatively – for being one of the sectors that consumes the most resources in a linear approach, with Construction and Demolition Waste (CDW) making up a very significant part of the waste generated. Considering the importance of this sector in the Portuguese economy (contribution to GDP, number of companies and workers) and its impact on the entire territory, it is essential to promote and implement circular economy principles.

What is the Circular Economy?

The circular economy is based on three essential vectors: eliminating the production of waste and pollutants, promoting the circularity of products and materials with their (re)use and, finally, regenerating nature. The circular approach will pave the way for new business models, geared towards a global market for greener technologies and services, which try to preserve resources in more circular flows (closed or open loop) and with minimized losses. The aim is to enhance the life cycle of resources while minimizing the need for them to go to landfill, while at the same time reducing emissions associated with climate change.

Circularity indicators

The best way to assess the current state of circularity and CDW recovery in Portugal is by comparing it with the performance of other European Union countries, based on statistical data provided by Eurostat:

A) Circular Material Utilization Rate

Ratio between the use of circular materials and the total materials used. In 2019, Portugal lagged behind the other European countries with a rate of 2.3% (like Bulgaria) with the European average standing at around 12% and Belgium at 24%, the Netherlands at 30%, France at 20% and Spain at 10%.

B) CDW recovery rate

This is used to monitor progress in the area of ‘waste management’. Portugal has a high CDW recovery rate of around 93%, which is close to Belgium (97%) or the Netherlands (100%), and stands out from France (73%), Spain (75%) and the European average (88%).

C) Use of natural resources in Portugal

The continuous extraction of natural resources in the linear economy without post-use (re)recovery flows has led to the significant depletion of natural resources. Since 2016, there has been a continuous increase in the extraction of natural resources, with a total of approximately 60 Mton of minerals being extracted in 2020, with 1% being metal ores, 9% industrial minerals and the remaining 90% construction minerals. The contribution of minerals for construction is the most significant, with a growing consumption of minerals following the economic recovery, emphasizing the importance of adopting a circular economy in the construction sector.

Where are we heading? What targets currently exist?

Since 2014, the European Union (EU) has been constantly and increasingly presenting documents aimed at encouraging the implementation of policies to minimize resource consumption, emissions and waste generation. Based on the regulatory context proposed by the EU, the Portuguese government and other regulatory bodies have been adopting a circular approach in the legislation and regulations associated with the construction sector, in each of its updates, incorporating the main lines of action for a circular economy.

There are currently a number of regulations in the Portuguese context, the main ones being the Basic Climate Law, the General Waste Management Regime, the Legal Regime for Urbanization and Building and the Action Plan for Circularity in Construction (PACCO).

This latest plan is an important document to support future decision-making by the Portuguese government in the field of circularity in the construction sector, and is the result of extensive analysis work by various entities. Among much useful information, PACCO presents the main lines of action and brings together all the targets set for circularity and carbon neutrality in the construction sector, in the short, medium and long term.

We highlight some of the main targets:

  • Reduction of greenhouse gases in relation to 2005 values (not considering land use and forests): – 55% by 2030; – 65 to 75% by 2040; – 90% by 2050.
  • Reduction in global material consumption compared to 2018: – 25% by 2030; – 50% by 2040; – 75% by 2050.
  • Reduction in the energy intensity of the built stock compared to 2018:
    • Residential buildings: – 5% by 2040; – 20% by 2050.
    • Service buildings: – 20% by 2023; – 35% by 2040; – 50% by 2050.
  • Use of recycled or reused materials in works within the public procurement cycle: 20% by 2023; 50% by 2040; 90% by 2050.
  • Preparation for reuse, recycling and recovery of non-hazardous CDW, excluding natural materials by weight: 80% by 2023; 90% by 2040; 100% by 2050.
  • High school (level 4 and 5) and higher education (level 6, 7 and 8) courses that include skills in the area of sustainability and the circular economy, per total number of courses in the AEC sector: 30% by 2023; 80% by 2040; 100% by 2050.
  • Workers sensitized to adopting the principles of circular construction in the total number of workers in the construction sector: 50% by 2023; 75% by 2040; 100% by 2050.

To see all the measures and which entity they are associated with, see pages 67 to 69 of the plan.

 

As you can see, we still have a long way to go. The environmental emergency and the targets set – globally and specifically for the sector – require a paradigm shift in the construction sector, particularly in terms of projects, production processes, the organization and management of construction sites, logistics, business models, the qualifications of professionals and the materials used. For change to be effective, it must actively involve all participants in the construction value chain: from designers to end users of construction products; from political decision-makers to public opinion; from builders to contractors; to companies, researchers, material suppliers or, more broadly, society as a whole.

Beelt works every day to ensure that its teams are informed and well-informed, so that we can comply with and make a positive contribution to the Circular Economy.

There is much more on this subject, and we invite you to read all the documents mentioned in the article and in the list of sources. You’ll be impressed by the level of legislation and information that already exists and is still unknown. Towards total circularity!

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