Most European countries see construction as circular economy priority, report reveals
The majority of European countries have identified plastic and packaging, construction and demolition waste and food waste as key priority materials that need to be focused on in the transition to a circular economy, according to a new assessment from the European Environment Agency (EEA).
Based on a survey of 32 of the 39 EEA member and co-operating countries, the‘More from less – material resource efficiency in Europe’ report takes an in-depth look at national resource efficiency policy approaches, with the main objective of encouraging countries to share information and their experiences in the development of a circular economy across Europe.
The survey found that key waste streams prioritised by nations include plastic and packaging - which was listed by 17 countries - construction and demolition waste - cited by half of the participants - and food waste - highlighted by 15 members. These resources were mainly selected because of the implications for value chains, their environmental footprint, or dependency on materials imported from outside Europe.
The report suggests that the prioritisation of waste or secondary materials seems to be largely driven by European Union (EU) legislation, which sets limits for the share of waste going to landfill and for preventing and reducing the environmental impacts of waste. The new EU circular economy package, introduced last December, includes ambitious targets for both recycling municipal and packaging waste, and will allegedly be backed by tougher European Commission enforcement than seen under previous administrations.
Report findings reveal that the foremost European Union (EU) resource productivity improvements occurred between 2007 and 2014. According to the EEA, this was due to the sharp decline in construction activity as a result of the economic crisis that started in 2007-2008, which led to huge falls in material use.
In its self-assessed domestic report included alongside the full EEA report, the UK singled out the construction industry as a key economic sector for improving material resource efficiency. The assessment highlighted the recently launched Built Environment Commitment as an industrial construction strategy which forces signatories to take action contributing to a more low-carbon, resource efficient built environment.
“Reducing our waste arisings overall is very important," the UK report reads. "The construction and demolition sector plan will focus on reducing our waste arisings, with specific emphasis on the priority materials which will reduce our ecological footprint the most."
The UK construction industry is starting to explore how business-driven sustainability and circular economy approaches could bring cost, efficiency and environmental benefits to the sector. The UK Green Building Council's (UKGBC) sustainability officer recently claimed that the construction industry needs a collaborative 'evolutionary jump' to ensure that businesses can embed best practice and overcome barriers to applying circular economy principles to the built environment.
The EEA report comes in the same week as a survey of UK sustainability professionals which tested views on how the circular economy would be affected should the UK vote to leave Europe. A total of 71% of respondents expressed a view that opportunities for business collaboration to transition to more circular resource economy modes of operation would be reduced if Britain leaves the EU.
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