FutuREuse: How to build a Roadmap - The do’s and dont's of reuse in the construction sector

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review


Circular Economy and Reuse: Challenges for the Construction Sector

Waste to resources: a circular economy perspective

The sustainable use of natural resources, reducing waste and measuring resource efficiency have become essential challenges for Europe especially in times of dependence on supply. These issues are commonly linked to circular economy strategies that have been supported by European institutions in recent years starting with the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe [1] and resulting in the EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy [2, 3, 4]. In fact, the development of circular economy strategies and roadmaps has experienced exponential growth across European countries over the last few years. A recent study shows this trend by highlighting more than 60 strategies in place across Europe at the end of 2019 [2]. In view of urgent current issues and Europe’s climate change objectives, this tendency is likely to continue in the future.

What is meant by Circular Economy?
Circular Economy is a relatively broad concept which is difficult to define in precise terms. This is due to the 'novel features' of this concept1. Nevertheless, it is increasingly used in this context and the issues involved are becoming clearer. Despite the numerous definitions proposed for the 'circular economy' (CE) concept, the following principles are universally accepted [5]:

• CE has been developed to challenge our industrial linear economy based on a 'take-make-waste' model.
• CE aims to extend the lifecycle of products and maintain the environmental and economic values of already extracted and manufactured natural resources in the same way as reuse.
• The model distinguishes between technical and biological cycles. Biological cycles concern food and biologically-based materials whose cycles regenerate living systems. Technical cycles on the other hand recover and restore products, components and materials through strategies such as reuse, repair, remanufacture or (as a last resort) recycling.

The term 'circular' can be confusing because it suggests that flows and materials have to 'circulate'. However, the cascade principle (supported by EC) advocates a hierarchy of action that places maintenance in pole position ahead of reuse, refurbishment, and lastly, recycling. Maintenance can be understood as the action required to keep a building, infrastructure, etc. in good condition2. The underlying objective is therefore to maintain and extend the life cycle. This precision often appears to be overlooked in the action hierarchy.

Where do reuse and the construction sector fit in?
As mentioned in the context, the construction and demolition sector is responsible for generating one of the largest volumes of waste in Europe and uses no less than half of the Earth’s raw materials. The embodied carbon of construction products represents 10 to 20% of the total embodied carbon in EU buildings [6]. Despite the efforts made in recent years to reduce energy consumption and improve waste treatment, the challenge remains significant for this sector. In addition, construction is also a major player in the European economy both at country and city level – hence it is defined as a priority sector for action. Its potential is indeed considerable not only in socio-economic terms (job creation, SMEs, etc.) but also in terms of circular economy opportunities involving reuse.

Indeed, circular economy strategies usually mention reuse as one of the main mechanisms involved in the transition towards a more resource efficient industry (and economy). By preserving the value and utility of the products and therefore extending their lifespan, reuse reduces the impact on raw resources and lowers waste production. Reuse also nurtures local economic activities and, to some extent, preserves the cultural and (crucially) heritage value of the materials.

'Reuse' is viewed as a preventive act by diverting waste flows. Prevention is at the top of the action hierarchy defined by the European Waste Framework Directive. However, the Directive also refers to 'preparation for reuse' as part of a waste management strategy (as opposed to prevention). Ranking in second place in the action hierarchy, 'preparation for reuse' would serve to remove reusable elements from the status of waste (through certain light restoration operations). One of the FutuREuse collection booklets3 attempts to clarify these definitions and the status of reuse elements.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


  • reclaimed Materials
  • Reuse-oriented redesign
  • Low Carbon
  • Built environment


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