There is a growing recognition among governments, businesses and the public that we urgently need to transform our take-make-dispose economy into a circular one, in which resources are kept in use for as long as possible while maximum value is extracted.
Designers can adopt strategies to maximise a concrete structure’s potential in a circular economy, and ensure that it is fit for purpose for a world in which resource use is radically lower and no material is wasted. These are outlined below and also, in more depth on Material Efficiency and Whole Life pages.
Reusing a building structure is the most effective way to keep its materials in use for as long as possible and to extract the maximum value from them and the benefits of retaining and reusing concrete frames are increasingly recognised by designers, developers and planners. More on reuse.
Design for future reuse
Where a new structure or building is required, this should be designed to optimise future reuse, so embedding good circular economy practice. Here, the durability of concrete is an advantage.
According to the design standards for a concrete frame located internally – in other words, in an environment classed as “low exposure” – no additional measures are required to achieve a service life of over 100 years compared to 50. (See BS 8500-1, tables A4 and A5, XC1 exposure class.)
The inherent low maintenance requirements of a concrete structure, and its resilience to fire and the impacts of weather, mean that it can remain serviceable over a long period, with the potential for multiple reuses during its lifetime.
When concrete does eventually reach the end of its life, it can be recycled. This applies to all concrete, and the process can be repeated again and again in perpetuity to provide a lowcarbon resource with a range of applications.
The majority of concrete’s volume/mass is aggregates, and when recycled, it becomes aggregate again. Some of this makes its way back into new concrete, but most is used “unbound” as sub-base materials, fill and hard core.