FutuREuse: Product or waste? Criteria for reuse

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review


Reuse as a practice to prevent waste
“Reusable material is a product to be respected.”
1.1 Key concepts
The foundation of waste regulation
All waste regulations in the European Union are based on the 2008 Waste Directive. Its purpose is clear: to pre- serve the environment and human health.

“ Subject matter and scope of application"
This Directive lays down measures to protect the environment and human health by preventing or reducing the generation of waste, the adverse impacts of the generation and management of waste and by reducing overall impacts of resource use and improving the efficiency of such use, which are crucial for the transition to a circular economy and for guaranteeing the Union’s long-term competitiveness.1
This article is the basis for every product decision or status of a waste material and provides a strong justification for the practice of reuse.

Indeed, measures to protect the environment and human health must go far beyond the logistical treatment of the waste produced. The best way is still not to produce waste, or at least to produce as little waste as possible. Firstly, because waste treatment operations have a negative impact in themselves: emissions of pollutants during transport and incineration, construction of infrastructure, the creation of artificial soils in landfill. Secondly, because we exploit limited resources – it is therefore essential to optimise the use of extracted raw materials. Buried or incinerated waste thus represents not only a lost resource but also a new extracted resource.

1. Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC [1] - Art 1
This is why the directive stresses the importance of reducing the amount of waste produced initially and then optimising its management by always seeking to use it, as a resource, in the most efficient way possible.

What is waste?
Few actors in the construction industry are able to pinpoint the critical moment when a product becomes waste. And when they are, it is not guaranteed that they will all give the same answer. Let us start from the be- ginning: this uncertainty results from the very definition of “waste” adopted within the European Union.

“ “Waste” means any substance or object which the holder discards, is required or intends to discard.2

In this definition, the term “discard” (or its translation) needs to be examined carefully. In most languages, ‘dis- card’ covers a wide range of operations but is more specific here. The English version of the framework directive is perhaps more explicit: the term “discard”, implies “throw away, abandon”. The European Commission has subsequently detailed the various meanings of the term “discard” covered by the definition:

• “The holder discards”: direct action
The holder performs an action as a direct consequence of which the materials are classified as waste. Note, this action may be unintentional or accidental.
Examples: materials thrown into a skip or deposited at a waste disposal site, etc.
In the context of building works, several actors may at some point carry out this action on behalf of the holder, without the holder being aware of it.

• “The holder intends to discard”: indirect action or lack of action.
An intention to dispose of the materials can be inferred from the holder’s actions. The classification as waste is an indirect consequence of these actions. This is in fact due to the absence of a clear desire not to throw the materials away.

– In a waste management plan on a construction site, no waste prevention measures are taken and all materials are considered indiscriminately as waste.
– Stones left over from road works are stored for a long and indefinite period of time, without any further in- tended use.
Case law shows that the intention of the original holder is not the only basis for determining the status of waste. The analysis is based on the accumulated evidence of various parties with no interest in retain- ing or reusing a product. This nuance is important in the construction industry, where a large number of parties have responsibility for the materials produced on a building site. They are explained in more detail in section 2.1:”The panel of indicators: a tool for classification.”.

• “The holder has an obligation to discard”: mandatory action.
The holder has an obligation to dispose of the mate- rial as a result of European or national regulations. Classification as waste is then a direct consequence of law and independent of the holder’s will.
Examples: asbestos materials from demolition work, materials irremediably contaminated by lead dust, etc.

What is reuse?
“ Reuse means any operation whereby products or components that are not waste are used again for the same purpose for which they were intended.3
From a legal point of view, reuse implies that the materials in question are not waste, nor that their holder has a desire to discard them in the sense conveyed by the directive. Above all, since materials are not treated as waste, reuse is a waste prevention practice. This practice is therefore considered as a priority over recycling in the hierarchy defined by the European Union4.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


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


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