The concept of a circular economy is based on three main principles - designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible and regenerating natural systems.
It aims to redefine growth, delivering a wide range of positive benefits for society as a whole, moving the economy away from consumption of the earth’s finite resources and making sure that waste is designed out of the system entirely, making a move to renewable energy sources.
It’s not just about keeping resources in use for as long as possible, but also ensuring that maximum value is extracted from said resources while they are in use. Products and materials reaching the end of their life cycle should be recovered and regenerated, and products, components and materials should be at their highest utility and value at all times.
A new white paper from AECOM and the award-winning Major Infrastructure-Resource Optimisation Group (MI-ROG) has suggested that a circular economy approach to infrastructure is, in fact, the key to achieving the UK’s net-zero carbon ambitions by 2050.
Construction and operation of infrastructure tends to result in heavy carbon footprint, and it is, therefore, important to take steps to decarbonise the sector as we transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Infrastructure makes up 16 per cent of the country’s carbon emissions and influences an additional 37 per cent when materials and energy for building, maintenance and operations are accounted for, as well
If the circular economy approach is applied within the built environment in London alone, it’s thought this could contribute an additional £3 to £5 billion to the GDP by 2036 by reducing costs of materials and generating new jobs in areas like remanufacturing, reuse and materials innovation.
By embracing new technologies such as digitisation and the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as focusing on the hierarchy of reuse, the infrastructure sector can minimise waste and maximise the use of assets already in existence, thus driving down development costs and making significant contributions to a net-zero economy.
However, early adoption within projects, as well as partnerships and collaboration, are essential. Data and targets must also be prioritised to track material use, embedded carbon and recycled content to identify carbon saving opportunities and measure performance.
Chairman of the MI-ROG Robert Spencer commented: “2020 - a new decade amid a global pandemic, with an ambition to deliver a legislated target of net zero emissions by 2050. There is no doubt that infrastructure has an important role to play in an economic bounce back. The recent calls to “build back better, build back greener, build back faster” exemplifies the need to grasp this recovery period to accelerate the transition to net-zero.”
He went on to add that circular economy thinking will be vital to success, creating opportunities for a shift across the infrastructure sector as a whole.
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