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Modular buildings

Getting ‘round to circularity
in Construction and Demolition (C&D)

Written by: Alexa Stone

The built environment uses roughly half of all materials mined or otherwise taken from the crust of this planet. Each year, construction (including highway construction) extracts tonnage that is equivalent to two-thirds of Mount Everest.

Construction creates an estimated third of the world’s overall waste, causing no less than 40% of carbon dioxide emissions.[1]

A trend that can’t continue

Global material use is expected to more than double by 2060, with a third of this rise attributable to the building and construction sector.[2] Nearly 40 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from the construction and operation of buildings. As much as 30% of all construction materials delivered to building sites leaves as waste.

In 2015, an estimated 548 million tons of C&D waste[3] were sent to landfills in the U.S. That number has increased to 600 million tons each year.

The high cost of a linear economy

Today’s economy is a linear path. It TAKES materials from the planet, MAKES buildings, roads, and consumer goods, and WASTES materials all along that path.

In a linear economy, as much as 30 percent of all materials delivered to construction sites leaves as waste. Removal of those materials requires labor and capital expenditure in heavy equipment and trucks. Load after wasted load is hauled to landfills. There, mountains of mixed materials rise, sending CO2 to the atmosphere and polluting groundwater with toxic elements.

The high value of circularity in C&D

These circular economic strategies can return benefits while creating less waste!

  • Claim value from waste as a commodity
    • Salvage more by repurposing and upcycling materials.
    • Sort materials for processing at specific recycling facilities.
    • Find opportunities for reuse, repair, and remanufacture.
    • Compost biodegradable materials.
  • Preserve existing buildings
  • In construction planning, identify the most durable features and materials.
  • Modular design
    • Components can reduce the energy required during construction.
    • Volumetric and panelized construction can save materials.
    • Buildings that can be disassembled and reassembled become a materials bank.
Circular economic model

Looking ahead: Standards for circularity

Product Circularity Data Sheet (PCDS) forms, initiated in Luxembourg and now available online,[3] are more than disclosures. They document materials within building products, but also show ways those can be safely reused, refabricated, or recycled. PCSD metrics can help builders and manufacturers towards circularity goals for better, more sustainable business.[4]

Also in 2018, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) formed a technical committee to promote sustainable development through guidance, tools, and requirements. Currently, that committee is developing the Working Draft (WD) of a future ISO Standard 59040 for PCDS.[5]


[3] — Product Circularity Data Sheets / Luxembourg
[4] — Materials data source
[5] — International Organization for Standardization (ISO)