Simply the Best: How to Make a Circular Economy Work for Buildings

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EU thinkers and policy makers love to talk about Best Practice. As Europe looks for ways to cut carbon emissions in a circular economy, it is important to remember that “practice” here doesn’t mean rehearsal. It means action. It means finding the best real-life examples of circular, energy efficient building practices and making them an everyday reality.  

Olympia Dolla is the Sustainable Construction Manager at Eurima, the European Insulation Manufacturers Association.

When it comes to circular construction, Europe today faces a basic economic problem. The comparatively low cost of landfill makes it difficult for sustainable alternatives like recovery, reuse and recycling to look attractive. Fundamentally increasing these alternative routes is a priority, if we don’t want an EU Renovation Wave to be accompanied by a wave of waste going to landfill.

Now Europe has an opportunity to change things. By rethinking the costs involved, landfill will not be an option anymore. There should also be a clear timeline to ban sending recyclable products to landfill, as is already the case in some EU countries.

Over the past two years, the EU has been adopting policies as part of a European Circular Economy Action Plan. The Circular Economy is an important part of the Green Deal, Europe’s agenda for sustainable growth. Central to both the Green Deal and the Circular Economy will be an EU Renovation Wave, intended to boost building renovation rates around EU countries.

The construction sector now faces both a huge challenge and a great opportunity, given the renovation rates to be driven by these policy packages. At the same time, practical and technological barriers to a circular economy can be overcome through common guidelines for the collection of materials. These should include information about what construction products are made of, to encourage the use of non-toxic materials that can easily be recycled.

Mineral wool insulation is a material with an excellent recycling potential. An EU JRC study in March this year recognised this, naming mineral wool as one of five waste streams with potential to boost recovery and recycling rates through the development of specific “EU-wide end-of waste and by-product criteria.”.

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