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Thinking circular: knowledge (information) is power

Jesse Putzel Jesse Putzel   03 May 2017

As part of our continued work on the circular economy in the built environment, BAM is holding a series of four workshops to engage with key members of our supply chain. We are discussing how we can create new opportunities for us, our suppliers and our clients and create positive impacts from the projects we deliver. Last week, we held our second workshop of the series, focussing on the importance of material transparency and product information, to enable more resource efficient ways of working. You can read about the series and first workshop here.

We still know very little about the materials that exist in our built environment, resulting in a false impression of their residual value and hindering any effort to reuse or repurpose them in the future. It also means we cannot plan for future use, but instead are reactive and have to make the best use of what we have available to us. This often means finding ways to recycle the materials (sometimes into lower grade material) or in the worst case, disposal to landfill.

To inspire our participants to think about how materials end up as waste, we held the workshop at Wastecycle’s Nottingham recycling facility. During the day, Daniel Shearstone of Wastecycle explained that their recycling facility has evolved, and is now seen as a manufacturing centre - where raw material (waste) comes in, and a valuable product comes out. They are able to find a use for most things, with the final option being the production of fuel for waste to energy. This thought process was fitting, as in a thriving circular economy the role of waste management providers will be crucial. As Frederick Talbot wrote in the early twentieth century, waste is "merely raw material in the wrong place".
 

The waste to energy fuel shown during the site tour

The tour was followed up by a presentation from Shane Torrens from British Gypsum, who explained that forming strong partnerships between different industries is crucial to developing new solutions, highlighting the example where British Gypsum partnered with Wastecycle to prevent approximately 30,000 tonnes of plasterboard material from reaching landfill every year.
 

Reid Cunningham, Strategic Development Manager from BAM FM, also outlined how advances in information management within facilities management are impacting the way we maintain buildings over their lifetime. Through the use of digital tools, but more importantly, through embedding a culture of collaboration and information sharing, we’re able to manage buildings more efficiently (in terms of energy and also cost) and reduce waste through more informed lifecycle maintenance.

By obtaining information from suppliers about their products at an initial stage, and involving building managers early on, better choices can be made. And if we update information about products over their life, it allows informed decisions to be made – such as when they need to be replaced and the possible options for reuse. If we know what is in a building, what it’s made of and how it’s been used, we could also demonstrate the potential value to other users.

 

Reid Cunningham talking about information management for FM

This second workshop highlighted that if we had access to information about all of the materials within our buildings, we could plan in predefined, more valuable (and less resource intensive) ways of getting them back, reusing or repurposing them. Waste managers could become ‘urban miners’, proactively seeking out valuable raw materials for new uses.

From our discussions it was clear that this can only happen if suppliers work together with their up and down stream value chains - many products form just one part of a system and therefore information needs to be passed from one party to the next. When these products come together in a building, we need clear, accurate and easily accessible records which are updated over time. If we do this, we’ll be one step closer to ensuring our buildings remain material banks, rather than waste awaiting disposal.

How information could be used in the future

 

Jesse Putzel is the Head of Sustainability at BAM

To discuss opportunities about the circular economy further, contact us.

 

 

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