Achieving solid sustainability

Transnational cooperation as a key enabler for implementing circular practices in North-West Europe's construction sector.

Concrete and bricks. Wood or glass. Maybe metals, gypsum. Even plastic. Possibly any kind of material that comes to mind can be found in the mix used in modern construction. Although their use makes facades and indoor settings that look great to the eyes, one may wonder what happens to all these components when it’s time for the excavators to bring the whole structure down.

Representing over 30% of all waste produced in the European Union, Construction and Demolition Waste (CDW) is one of the major direct outcomes of massive urbanisation challenging sustainability. Generated from different activities, such as the construction or demolition of infrastructure, road planning and maintenance, CDW is considered a priority waste stream by the EU and holds a great potential for re-use and recycling due to the high value of some components. Nevertheless, recycling is far from mainstream in Europe as only 4% of CDW is currently re-used.

To tackle this challenge transnational cooperation is showing itself of crucial importance to implement the principles of circular economy in this sector : not only smart construction and demolition practices require joint coordinated approaches beyond regional borders, but it also turns out that over 80% of the residential housing stock dates from pre 1990’s in the NWE area!

Key figures

Construction and demolition


of all EU waste

Construction and demolition waste


currently reused in Europe

NWE residential housing stock


dates from pre 1990’s

Aware of this challenge, the SeRaMCo partnership kicked off with the aim of replacing primary raw materials in cement and concrete with the high-quality materials recycled from CDW. The project, which stands for “Secondary Raw Materials for Concrete Precast Products” has been working on improving CDW sorting in North-West Europe, both to develop and test new concrete mixes and technologies for the production of concrete precast products (CPPs) and thus to establish a market niche for these materials.

“By reusing recycled inert CDW for cement and concrete precast production, the amount of waste generated during the demolition of buildings can be considerably reduced. At the same time, the depletion of natural resources in quarries is diminished and therefore the environmental footprint of construction projects being reduced”, says Bea Rofagha, Senior Advisor from Schuttelaar & Partners and a project partner in SeRaMCo.

"Exchanging with other organisations allows us to learn from other experiences, and to bundle our efforts to give us the necessary weight to face the intrinsic challenges of the construction sector."

Bea Rofagha, Senior Advisor from Schuttelaar & Partners

The products are currently being tested in three pilot sites, in Wallonia (Belgium), Saarland (Germany) and Moselle (France). At the end of its activities the project is expected to deliver cement and CPPs made from up to 100% recycled aggregates and ready to be commercialised in NWE.

“There is not only one way to deal with CDW, and depending on the region the conditions may vary a lot, be it the availability of sand and gravel, its price, national and regional legislation, the market demand or the kind of construction project. Exchanging with other organisations allows us to learn from other experiences, and to bundle our efforts to give us the necessary weight to face the intrinsic challenges of the construction sector”, Bea continues.

The reuse of building elements is usually performed by specialised SMEs, which also act as suppliers of re-used materials. These companies usually face the considerable challenges of lack of visibility or access to big construction projects. Another initiative was therefore financed to address this specific need of “Facilitating the circulation of reclaimed building elements in Northwestern Europe”. FCRBE is setting up an illustrated and user-friendly listing of 1500 reclamation specialists in NWE. The project will also deliver a pre-demolition audit method for reusable elements as well as a set of four innovative specification methods for reclaimed products. Together, these tools will be tested and promoted through 36 on-going pilot operations, with more than 360 tons of elements expected to be reused.

“Bringing together experiences from different contexts helps to develop a collection of good examples. These demonstrate to the industry what is possible in terms of reuse, and how others have proceeded to reach their goals”, says the project lead partner Michaël Ghyoot from Rotor. “We are currently selecting pilot associates. These are going to test our tools and methods in their ongoing projects. Not only are the reactions from building owners and designers quite enthusiastic, but it also seems that the tools we are developing are in line with their main concerns”, he adds.

However, a more sustainable construction industry goes beyond the implementation of recycling practices and comprises also the use of local non-toxic materials. Therefore, another NWE initiative investigates alternatives for construction with wood materials. Running since 2016, Adhesive-Free Timber Buildings (AFTB) tackles the use of toxic adhesives in the manufacturing of Engineered Wood Products (EWPs). The project supports ten businesses in the NWE area to adopt a new adhesive-free EWPs technologies (currently at the demonstration phase) and therefore support the market uptake in the area. At the end of the project, not only will new technologies  have been brought to the market, but the project will also have supported the sustainable management of forests in the NWE territory and connected rural livelihoods by adding value to local lower-quality timber.

More recent NWE projects, such as CHARM and URBCON are also active and expected to deliver a strong impact on the sustainability of the construction industry in North-West Europe.

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