12 September 2019

Construction waste: high time we found a solution

With France’s implementation of the circular economy act looming, AMORCE, the No.1 network for assisting local authorities in energy transition and waste & water management issues, reopens the debate on the recycling of building waste. Managing the 11 million tonnes of waste that end up in council landfills or simply being dumped has become an urgent matter.

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For 10 years, AMORCE has championed the creation of a real sector for the collection and recycling of waste from smaller building contractors, an “extended producer liability” (EPL) sector. Today, out of 11 million tonnes of building waste, at least 2.3 million are collected legally in public landfills. The average cost of receiving and handling this waste is roughly €110 per tonne. Local councils, however, do not have the skills to manage and process this waste in its globality. As for remaining waste from business activities, failing other solutions, it often ends up being fly tipped.

Two successive acts of parliament have set out to tackle this problem. The “Grenelle 2” act in 2009, which instituted department-level management plans for construction waste, then in 2015, the energy transition for green growth act, aimed at achieving 70% recycling of building and public works waste by 2020. It also obliged building material suppliers to organize the recovery of construction companies’ waste by developing a collection and sorting network within a 10km reach of their points of sale, starting January, 2017. On paper, this may appear a big step forward. But that’s without reckoning on the backlash from material suppliers, determined to attack and ignore this law, putting pressure on local councils to continue accepting the waste or be submerged by out-of-control fly tipping. Three years later, the situation has not progressed.

The Act’s objectives are still a long way off being fulfilled. Collecting and recycling channels haven’t appeared yet because they can’t find a viable business model. One survey has shown that only 5% of merchants have set up trade waste collection points on their own site, and 6% have organized take-back of waste from customers within 10km of the point of sale. We still see local council tips receiving waste from smaller building companies who have shunned their obligation to provide selective collection in five main streams.

The coming law on the circular economy constitutes a new attempt. It aims to reduce resource consumption by 30% with respect to the GDP by 2030, to have 50% less non-hazardous waste going to landfill in 2025, and to create up to 300,000 extra jobs. Among the planned measures are a reinforcement of waste sorting/reuse/recycling. An ecotax system is also on the cards. It would pay for collection and recycling along the same lines as the tax on household packaging.

Although it’s true there’s a wide range of waste types to be processed, the resource and its potential have been studied and are indeed real. It’s in stakeholders’ interests to develop a sector full of resources. This new revenue-generating activity and the new logistics loop it creates can contribute to distributors’ securing customer loyalty. What’s more, there are solutions for its implementation: possible pooling of on-site equipment and manpower, development of synergy with other business sectors with reuse and recycling, the opportunity to develop sales agreements for clients at processing sector level.

The circular economy act is ambitious and honourable, but there’s an urgent need to address an undoubted shortage of thousands of collection points. The Secretary of State for the Circular Economy has undertaken to give it priority. We demand that these measures be deployed from 1st January, 2020, a wholly achievable deadline. We’ve seen EPL systems, like that of paper, up-and-running within 6 months. It’s the stakeholders’ willingness that will drive the issue forward. As for us, we aren’t waiting any longer. We’re ready and we won’t let go.


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