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Why circular construction needs its own library of things

Updated: Feb 15, 2022

By Graeme English

Libraries are treasure troves of information, a wealth of knowledge and resource contained in neat catalogues and collections where people seek inspiration, escapism, innovation and even research. Databases derive from a similar premise, an organised collection of structured information or data, searchable using structured query language (SQL) to access or yield relevant results.

Access to data is an important catalyst for the circular economy especially for complex systems such as the built environment in cities. If circularity is to be realised, it is essential to know what existing resources and materials are available. Databases are key to this and can become an integral source in the planning process when assessing the feasibility (and availability) of using reclaimed materials from demolition projects, preventing unnecessary construction and demolition waste (which accounts for a staggering 33% of all waste produced in Europe).

Think of it this way: If you want to keep track of all the things and materials that went into building and furnishing an extension to your house, it might be suitable to have a file or drawer of manuals and receipts. This might be even more important if you were hoping to re-sell products, components or appliances in future to ensure items can have a useful life when they are no longer required in your house. If you were doing the same for a whole block of apartments, you certainly couldn't rely on storing information in a kitchen drawer. Even if you could find enough drawers, you would miss out on a treasure trove of insights that would only be possible by combining and 'aggregating up' that information. Zoom out again to your whole neighbourhood and the complexity increases again, but at the same time the opportunity to implement circular economy practices also grows.

Having a robust, long lasting, city-level database of construction materials can benefit multiple stakeholders (such as policy makers, building owners and building designers or contractors) and form the basis of many other data tools and initiatives. Some of these tools are being developed as part of CIRCuIT Circularity Hub.

Benefits of such a database include supporting the development of new local reuse and exchange market(s), facilitating benchmarking and knowledge sharing, and driving further application of new circular approaches in the built environment. The database also has the potential to help tackle city challenges by creating new collaborative opportunities. These might include connecting the waste management sector with the built environment sector to work together to divert materials from landfill; linking commercial organisations with local logistical businesses, or even support the standardisation of industry-wide data templates. Such data could enable a streamlined approach for local authorities to monitor and, ultimately, deliver on their core environmental priorities.

One of the first data tools being developed through CIRCuIT is a Materials Exchange Portal to host and aggregate information on surplus materials from the demolition and dismantling of buildings. The aim is to facilitate their exchange and effective reuse within London, where reclamation and recovery become common and best practice.

This could create a behavioural step-change where a new project doesn’t necessarily have to start with ‘new’ materials in mind.

To read more about The business case for a material stocks and flows database, download the full report.

CIRCuIT are currently developing a prototype Materials Exchange Portal that will house information on, and facilitate use of, recycled materials. It will be accessible to commercial, governmental and private users.

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