Re-use construction materials to help UK meet net-zero carbon target, says new report

Re-use construction materials to help UK meet net-zero carbon target, says new report.

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 this week, 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% of the total UK waste generated, according to the report, creation of a national REM would significantly reduce waste in construction and help the UK meet its net zero carbon emissions 2050 target. 

A national REM would offer the opportunity for surplus materials to be shared, says the paper. 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.”

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. 

Click here to download the white paper The Case for a REM.

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