Aecom plan for national materials re-use scheme

15 October 2019 | By Neil Gerrard

Image: Dreamstime / Maksim Safaniuk

A group of major construction businesses has called for the creation of a national resource and exchange mechanism to allow the trade of surplus materials and products across UK projects.

The Aecom-led Resource Optimisation Group (MI-ROG) wants to see a national resource exchange mechanism (REM) to help the UK meet its 2050 net zero carbon emissions target.

The scheme would encourage the widespread re-use of materials in construction to deliver environmental, cost-saving and social benefits.

Construction is responsible for 60% of the total UK waste generated, according to government figures cited in a white paper by MI-ROG.

The group claimed that re-using many of the materials, products, components and assets associated with infrastructure delivery would help to extend their useful lifespan, maintain their value, and reduce their embodied carbon and water impacts.

A national REM would offer the opportunity for surplus materials to be shared by matching the available materials with organisations that have a need for them, the white paper claimed. Currently, without an alternative use for surplus materials and other components, items are more likely to enter the waste stream. While some of the material may still be recycled, the inherent value will be reduced, it added.

Previous attempts to introduce the widespread exchange of surplus materials have failed but the white paper argued that digitisation in construction now makes a national REM easier to implement.

However, in order for it to be a success, a new REM would need a sizeable community of users, which will require buy-in from industry and a significant behavioural shift to encourage new ways of working.

Philip Charles, principal sustainability consultant, Aecom, said: “With clear benefits to be delivered through the wider exchange of resources across infrastructure projects and programmes, establishing a national REM must be put firmly on the agenda. Re-use is at the heart of the circular economy but has been notoriously difficult to implement in construction. With any re-use usually occurring only within single projects, broadening access to a common pool of resources across the entire UK construction industry would vastly increase the potential for keeping vital resources in the market place at high value. Infrastructure clients and the supply chain must now work together to come up with a consistent, ongoing solution that will bring maximum benefits over the long term.”

Nicky Conway, sustainability manager at National Grid, said: “Digitisation innovation in the construction industry creates significant opportunities for the circular economy to become reality.  MI-ROG’s case for a UK-wide Resource Exchange Mechanism for the trade of surplus materials, products and components is a timely means of reducing consumption of materials and making a big impact on how much carbon is embedded in key infrastructure.”

Colin Holm, senior advisor - sustainable development and climate change at Highways England, said: “Exchanging materials and resources is at the heart of the circular economy. As well as reducing waste, finding a beneficial alternative use for items that have come to the end of their useful life helps to preserve value. Solutions such as a resource exchange mechanism also play a vital role in reducing the carbon footprint of construction.”

With the Major Projects Association on board with the initiative, MI-ROG will now seek to engage with wider industry, innovation centres and government bodies to develop a business case for the establishment of a REM for the UK construction industry. An important next step will be consideration of the strategic requirements of a REM, such as the storage of surplus materials and an acceptable approach to procurement and liability, according to the white paper.

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