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Study to explore if circular economy can meet needs of UK’s buildings

5 March 2024

Low camera angle showing building with trees

A new project will explore how the circular economy could meet the UK’s building needs using zero new material extractions, zero emissions and zero waste.

BuildZero, a £6 million project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will develop a detailed vision of more sustainable building practices, and involves Cardiff University, the University of Sheffield, the University of Bath, the University of Manchester, the University of Cambridge, policy and implementation partner ReLondon and industrial collaborators.

Buildings and infrastructure are responsible for more than 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions, produce over 60% of the UK’s waste, and consume approximately 50% of all extracted materials globally. So in order to decarbonise construction, significant changes are required.

The circular economy is a widely-recognised opportunity to reduce both resource consumption and carbon emissions. In a circular economy, materials are kept at the highest value possible, for example retrofitting buildings and repurposing buildings to extend their lifespans.

Speaking about the project, Dr Kersty Hobson from the School of Geography and Planning at Cardiff University said: “It is very important that the issues of social inclusion, impact and acceptability are fundamental to the goals and outcomes of BuildZero. I am looking forward to leading key work in these areas, in particular co-developing visions of sustainable buildings futures with a wide range of stakeholders.”

In the past, circular economy examples for the building sector have mostly focused on case studies of individual buildings, or recycling of individual materials, which misses the opportunity for making changes to the wider system. BuildZero aims to present a larger-scale, systems-level approach to making changes in the construction sector.

The research programme will culminate in a range of demonstrator projects, interactive tools, detailed strategies, and ultimately a series of pathways to achieve the BuildZero vision of a UK building stock with zero new raw material extraction, zero emissions and zero waste.

Dr Danielle Densley Tingley, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering at the University of Sheffield, who will lead the project, said: “This funding is an exciting opportunity to explore if, and under what timeframes, a circular economy can be achieved for the UK’s building stock, whilst meeting essential societal needs. We will be working in close collaboration with industry partners to support changes in practice and help catalyse the shift to a widespread circular economy in the built environment.”

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