Re-use of construction materials will help UK meet net zero carbon emissions target


New white paper sets out the challenges and next steps for enabling the nationwide-trade of construction materials across the UK

15 October 2019 – A group of major infrastructure organisations is calling for the establishment of a national resource exchange mechanism to facilitate the trade of surplus materials, products, components and assets across UK infrastructure projects. In a new white paper published today, the AECOM-led Major Infrastructure – Resource Optimisation Group (MI-ROG) argues that a national REM (resource exchange mechanism) would encourage the widespread re-use of materials in construction and deliver a range of environmental, cost-saving and social benefits.

With construction responsible for 60 percent of the total UK waste generated*, creation of a national REM would significantly reduce waste in construction and help the UK meet its net zero carbon emissions 2050 target, according to the white paper. Re-using many of the materials, products, components and assets associated with infrastructure delivery helps to extend their useful lifespan, maintain their value, and reduce their embodied carbon and water impacts. In addition, many of the surplus or under-utilised materials may find an added value home outside the sector.

A national REM would offer the opportunity for surplus materials to be shared, the white paper asserts. An important step in delivering the circular economy in the UK, a REM would match available materials with organisations that have a need for them. Currently, without an alternative use for surplus materials and other components, items are more likely to enter the waste stream. While ultimately, the material may still be recycled, the inherent value will be reduced.

While previous attempts to introduce the widespread exchange of surplus materials have failed, the white paper argues that digitisation in construction now makes a national REM easier to implement. The ability to track data in real time would help facilitate the trading of large volumes of materials across projects, with users able to access substantiated information about available products quickly.

According to the white paper, which has been endorsed by the UK Green Building Council, for a new REM to be successful there needs to be a sizeable community of users. Achieving buy-in from across industry is therefore crucial but will require a significant behavioural shift to encourage new ways of working.

Philip Charles, Principal Sustainability Consultant, AECOM, said: “With clear benefits to be delivered through the wider exchange of resources across infrastructure projects and programmes, establishing a national REM must be put firmly on the agenda. Re-use is at the heart of the circular economy but has been notoriously difficult to implement in construction. With any re-use usually occurring only within single projects, broadening access to a common pool of resources across the entire UK construction industry would vastly increase the potential for keeping vital resources in the market place at high value. Infrastructure clients and the supply chain must now work together to come up with a consistent, ongoing solution that will bring maximum benefits over the long term.”

Nicky Conway, Sustainability Manager at National Grid, said: “Digitisation innovation in the construction industry creates significant opportunities for the circular economy to become reality. MI-ROG’s case for a UK-wide Resource Exchange Mechanism for the trade of surplus materials, products and components is a timely means of reducing consumption of materials and making a big impact on how much carbon is embedded in key infrastructure.”

Colin Holm, Senior Advisor – Sustainable Development and Climate Change at Highways England, said: “Exchanging materials and resources is at the heart of the circular economy. As well as reducing waste, finding a beneficial alternative use for items that have come to the end of their useful life helps to preserve value. Solutions such as a resource exchange mechanism also play a vital role in reducing the carbon footprint of construction.”

With the Major Projects Association on board with the initiative, MI-ROG is now seeking to engage with wider industry, innovation centres and government bodies to develop a business case for the establishment of a REM for the UK construction industry. According to the white paper, consideration of the strategic requirements of a REM, such as the storage of surplus materials and an acceptable approach to procurement and liability, will be an important next step. While challenges around geography, timing, warranties and ensuring compliance with waste regulations exist, exploring the use of research and innovation programmes to develop and test potential solutions will be key to developing a compelling business case.



Access to the white paper can be found here