Practices

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New Circular Economy Action Plan and the ambitious vision of the European Green Deal

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Photo by Alex Hu on Unsplash

The Concrete Initiative welcomes the New Circular Economy Action Plan and the ambitious vision of the European Green Deal. We are pleased to see that the Action Plan contains coherent, long-term measures to enhance the life span of construction works (through durability, maintenance, repair and reuse) and to increase the recycling and reuse of construction waste. The whole concrete value chain is fully committed to achieving a circular economy in construction.

 

The concrete sector has adopted life-cycle thinking and implemented ambitious goals to improve the sustainability, safety and health aspects of concrete construction. It also uses raw materials efficiently, preserves energy in buildings and processes, promotes recycling and ensures the occupational safety of its workers.

 

The concrete sector applies waste hierarchy principles throughout its value chain:

 

  • DURABLE - Concrete structures can easily last more than 100 years, are easy to maintain and repair, are inherently resilient and capable to withstand natural disasters (typhoons, hurricanes, floods), and can be adapted to the eventual changing needs of the user;
  • RECYCLABLE - Concrete is an inert material very easy to handle at its end-of-life. When a concrete structure is dismantled, concrete elements can be re-used, or demolished and crushed and be 100% recycled as aggregates;
  • LOCAL - Concrete is mainly manufactured close to the final user. This reduces the adverse impacts of transportation. Concrete uses either natural, locally available materials, or quality recycled materials;
  • WATER-EFFICIENT - Concrete properties are a function of the water/binder ratio. The water content can be reduced by using a more performing cement and proper admixtures. For instance, the addition of 1% of water-reducing admixtures corresponds (with equal workability) to a water reduction of about 20%;
  • ENERGY-EFFICIENT - Concrete is one of the most sustainable construction materials when both the energy consumed during its manufacture and placing and its in-use inherent properties are taken into account. Thanks to its thermal mass, concrete lowers the need for heating & cooling of buildings – reducing both energy needs and peak power demand – compared to lightweight building solutions;
  • STRONG - Steel-reinforced concrete is used for all types of structures (bridges, highways, runways, roads, dams, tunnels, buildings) and it is the only solution for applications carrying heavy loads such as footings, foundations, retaining walls. The concrete “skeleton” and the steel “musculature” work together to create one of the most durable and economical composite materials;
  • INNOVATIVE - Cement (one of the main constituents of concrete) manufacturers substitute an average 46% of their fossil fuel needs with alternative sources (e.g. non-recyclable waste or biomass) and 5% of raw material needs;
  • CARBON-SINK - CO2 from the atmosphere is absorbed by concrete during its whole life through a natural process called “carbonation”, resulting in CO2 being permanently bound. Crushing concrete at the end of life contributes to this phenomenon thanks to the increased surface of the crushed material exposed to CO2 in the air.