© 2021. Todos los derechos reservados.

Europe’s circular economy: The importance of finding alternatives to landfill

The adoption of the Green Deal by European countries has led to the rise of the circular economy. For this reason, Green Growth focuses on expanding the training of professionals in the sector so that they can adapt to the new reality.

During the first phase of the project, the partners interviewed around twenty experts on the practical application of the circular economy model in the construction sector. The profiles interviewed included entrepreneurs from SMEs in the sector, construction educators and key actors in the circular economy from various fields (sectoral associations or federations, public authorities and research institutions), from the five countries of the consortium: Spain, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Slovenia.

The aim of the consultation was to determine the skills gaps that exist in the circular economy and, based on the results, to develop a Handbook for construction trainers to help implement this model in the day-to-day work on the construction site. Among the questions, they were asked about the current application of the system in the construction sector, the perception of the organisations involved and the reasons that favour its use on the construction site.

Influence of the circular economy in everyday life

The diverse profile of the interviewees made it possible to ask questions about the current application of the circular economy system in different areas of the construction sector. Thus, according to their field of activity, the answers were very diverse:

  • Public administration. Within the public sector, familiarity with the concept of the circular economy is common in all five countries assessed, as interviewees stated that many of their municipalities are receiving funding to carry out urban regeneration projects (in Italy, for example), reduce land consumption and promote the application of circular economy principles to the recovery of the built environment.
  • Sectoral organisations. From a business point of view, construction companies that have applied the circular economy have initially done so for economic profitability and not out of environmental obligation, but this has not prevented them from improving their environmental awareness.
  • Researchers and consultants. In the field of research, they have a deeper understanding of the circular economy, i.e. they have an analytical perspective on the whole life cycle of building materials.
  • Representatives of Vocational Education and Training (VET). At training level, there is still a lack of knowledge about the circular economy, which highlighted the need to integrate the concept of this model into curricula and at institutional level, both in schools and in the way they operate and develop their activities. At present, the ‘circular’ message is conspicuous by its absence in training courses on the built environment.
  • General managers and independent professionals. With regard to entrepreneurs and workers in the sector, the circular economy is omnipresent, but they raise the difficulty of implementing the circular economy without the support of the client, and the latter is ultimately unaware of what this model consists of, its advantages and considers it to be a high economic outlay in the short term.
The drivers of recovery and recycling

When asked about the drivers of the circular economy in relation to the recovery and recycling of materials in the sector, the experts highlighted the following aspects:

    • The low availability of raw materials.
    • The use of the circular model that promotes the local economy and short circuits.
    • Compliance with public procurement requirements.
    • Increased environmental awareness among consumers.
    • Reducing costs related to materials and the management of Construction and Demolition Waste (CDW).

Representatives from both public administration and sectoral organisations pointed out that analysing the cost-benefit of any construction project, in which the circular economy model has been applied, is a necessary step to ensure the support of all stakeholders. In addition, we must take into account the social, economic and environmental cost generated by each construction project (carried out with the traditional linear model).

The perception of the circular economy among workers

The interviewees agreed that all professionals in the sector, regardless of their profile or occupation, need to understand the life cycle of a building and how the principles of the circular economy can be adapted to that particular construction. Nevertheless, the importance of applying the model in the design phase was emphasised, as correct eco-design optimises the use of materials, waste management and energy consumption.

During the interviews, they were asked about the circular economy knowledge that they considered essential for each of the profiles involved in a construction site:

  • Operators:
    • Basic digital skills.
    • Environmental awareness and awareness of the importance of correct waste separation.
    • Correct management of CDW, including disposal and preparation of waste to avoid contamination.
    • Knowledge of possible hazardous waste components and substances.
    • Technical knowledge related to the handling of specific materials.
    • Basic knowledge of the economic value of materials.
  • Foremen:
    • Digital skills, including basic knowledge of BIM.
    • Waste and materials management.
    • Use and behaviour of construction materials.
    • Supervision of proper waste management.
    • Techniques for recovery and reuse of CDW as by-products.
    • Sustainable construction techniques.
    • In-depth knowledge on the classification of materials and their handling.
    • How to carry out documentation.
    • Planning during new construction works to avoid waste of materials.
  • Site managers:
    • Knowing what an eco-design project is, sustainable materials and construction techniques.
    • Knowing the different certifications.
    • To know the availability and advantages of eco-labelled materials.
    • In-depth knowledge of the life cycle analysis of buildings and materials.
    • Advanced use of BIM.
    • Organisation of CO2-friendly construction work.
Gaps of the circular economy in training

The interviewees agreed that there is currently insufficient training in the circular economy, both in vocational training and in the initial stages of the education system, as this type of training is only provided at university level, leaving aside a large part of the construction sector, which is professionalised through training cycles.

Despite this situation, legislation and new European policies are evolving towards a green procurement system, which urges SMEs and companies to adapt to the new waste management systems and principles of the circular economy. For this reason, the Green Growth project aims to implement the circular economy as a cross-cutting subject in vocational training in the construction sector, so that both teachers and students are aware of the advantages of applying this approach.