There is much talk about renovation to reduce energy consumption but waste management is just as important for the building industry. The subject is certainly not new, but with the goalposts constantly moving in order to achieve circularity, it’s definitely time to speed things up.
According to the French Agency for Environment and Energy Management (ADEME), France produced 326 million tons of waste in 2017. The construction industry (224 Mt) is responsible for nearly 70% of this figure, far ahead of waste from economic activities (70 Mt / 21.5%) and from households (32 Mt / 9.8%).
Building waste (demolition / dismantling; rehabilitation / renovation; new builds) accounts for 46 Mt, over 20% of all construction-related waste. Two thirds of these 46 Mt consist of inert waste (concrete, bricks, tiles, etc.) which is relatively well recycled (e.g. as aggregates). But there is still plenty of room for improvement with the remaining third, in both technical and practical terms as, according to the ADEME, only about 35% is recycled.
The main issues affecting the industry
The main issue in building waste management is how to maximise the available resources when a building reaches its end of life. This involves facilitating and optimising waste collection for all companies (whatever their size) and developing processes for its re-use, recycling or other forms of repurposing. Another key issue is how to eliminate fly tipping. Dealing with all these issues requires all stakeholders to take genuine responsibility. Ideas being studied include traceability and reporting as well as separated collection and the development of a national waste collection point network.
Better waste separation for better recycling
All recent regulatory changes are moving towards a significant increase in recycling. France’s 2015 Energy Transition law set the objective of recycling 70% of construction waste by 2020, in application of the EU’s 2008 Waste Directive. It also forces outlets selling construction materials, products and equipment for the trade to take back any waste.
In 2018, the French Circular Economy Roadmap (FREC) encouraged better sorting, re-use and recycling through three specific measures. The first involved taking back waste free of charge. The second proposed an overhaul of the way waste was identified before demolition, in a move towards diagnostics/inventory for reusing and recycling construction site resources and waste (the scope has been widened to include renovation as well as demolition). The third called for technical guidelines to be drawn up for reusing materials, given that this remained sporadic and geographically patchy.
More recently, the French Anti-waste for a Circular Economy law (AGEC) (February 2020) introduced the principle of an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system for construction products or materials not already covered by a recycling process. This will come into force from 1 January 2022. It also introduced a traceability requirement for waste generated “during significant building demolition or renovation work” (see Art. 51). This new assessment “supplies the necessary information relating to products, materials and waste most particularly for their re-use, or, failing that, their recycling, indicating recommended recycling processes and recommending complementary analyses enabling assurance to be given about the re-usable nature of such products and materials”. It includes recommendations aiming to ensure the traceability of these products, materials and waste. Where re-use or recycling isn’t possible, the assessment provides methods for eliminating waste. An enabling decree* was added at the end of 2020 so that developers can “ensure good management of the waste produced on their worksites, for which they are responsible in accordance with Article L. 541-2 of the French Environment Code”. Another decree will define the minimal conditions for establishing a collection point network. As of early April 2021, the introduction of the EPR system is still ongoing and has sparked lively discussions among certain stakeholders. Watch this space.
* Decree No. 2020-1817 of 29/12/2020 concerning information on quotations for the removal and management of waste generated by building construction, renovation or demolition works and by gardening, and the documents required for disposing of waste.