A new research project will investigate how the construction industry can transition to a circular economy – a system that eliminates waste and keeps resources flowing in a loop.
Each year, more than 20 million tonnes of construction waste is sent to landfill.
RMIT’s Ralph Horne will lead the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute-funded Inquiry Programme, in collaboration with the University of South Australia, University of New South Wales, University of Wollongong and The University of Adelaide.
Horne said Australian housing has been shifting towards a more sustainable footing for the past few decades.
“However, it is hard to change processes and practices within this competitive and cost-driven industry without concerted, sustained and joined-up collaboration across policy and regulation, construction, design and broader society,” Horne said.
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“As we know, China has banned waste imports from Australia, and many other jurisdictions are doing the same, providing a significant opportunity for us to tackle waste and make broader changes to designing, delivering and consuming housing. This can be achieved through a circular economy approach.”
Horne said a shift to circular economy housing would ensure housing was sustainable, accessible and high quality, with extended product life and energy efficiency built-in.
“It will transform the housing sector, reducing waste and pollution through good design, facilitated by intelligent incentives and robust regulations,” he said.
In Europe and Asia, circular economy policies have been strongly aligned with zero-waste and sustainable building, through digitisation and automation and promoting new workforce skills and jobs.
“Given that the construction sector is Australia’s third-largest employer and is well connected to other service sectors, it is time we properly investigated how we can make circular economy work for us to deliver better and more sustainable housing,” Horne said.
The research team will target four projects to inform a 10-year transition plan towards circular economy housing.
These include neighbourhood scale housing developments, the apartment industry, large scale housing retrofits and building materials supply chains for circular economy housing.
Horne said applying circular economy principles would deliver a range of benefits.
“We’ll see improved community health, social and economic equity from affordable, high-quality energy-efficient homes, while addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation,” he said.
“These broad community benefits will be supplemented by a radical reduction in building and renovation waste, towards more circular, resource-efficient and sustainable approaches.
“Through this inquiry, we will deliver a co-ordinated analysis to inform cutting-edge practice and policy innovation.”