03-05 March 2020 / ExCeL, London
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‘The Circular Economy of Life… Exploring the attitudes to the use of recovered cellulose in the construction industry’

31 Aug 2019

‘The Circular Economy of Life… Exploring the attitudes to the use of recovered cellulose in the construction industry’

The impending global threat of climate change has seen a surge in attempts to adopt sustainable practices across a multitude of industries and sectors. The UK construction industry faces the challenge of expanding production whilst making ambitious greenhouse gas emission reductions. Much of the embodied carbon associated with construction is linked with the materials used and how they are sourced, highlighting a potential area for improvement through more sustainably sourced and produced materials. In particular, there is a growing focus on the circular economy, which encourages optimum utilisation of resources, as well as the recovery and regeneration of materials from traditional waste components. Using recovered materials has numerous benefits, and is in line with Green Building standards and certification systems.

SMART-Plant is a research project, funded by the European Commission, that is examining the use of low-carbon techniques to recover materials from wastewater (sewage) that are otherwise lost. The aim of SMART-Plant is to optimise wastewater treatment processes, resource recovery, energy efficiency and the reduction of greenhouse emissions. SMART-Plant aims to recover a number of materials from wastewater, such as biopolymers, cellulose, fertilisers and intermediates. While this is promising in terms of progressing towards more sustainable use and supply of materials, the issue of adoption and uptake is a challenging one, and must be carefully addressed.

In order to ensure long-term adoption of such circular economy solutions, it is important to understand the drivers of, and potential barriers to, the use of recovered materials within industry. It is also important to try to understand wider issues around public acceptance of the use of such materials in the built environment.

Through our online survey, we are looking at the particular challenges and opportunities associated with recovering building materials and other resources from wastewater. We are interested in finding out if the use of recovered cellulose products is an attractive option in the development and construction sector. Recovered cellulose is a material that is recovered from toilet paper in wastewater and it can be made into a high quality fibre, which can be incorporated into a wide range of products and is suitable for various industries. For the construction industry, recovered cellulose can be used for applications such as insulation, decking (as a component of bio-composites), and road surfacing (as an ingredient in asphalt). This can help lower carbon footprints – one ton of recovered cellulose used in construction materials can potentially save about 2 tonnes of CO2 emissions (compared to standard materials).

There may be obstacles preventing the introduction of new materials, such as rotation of stakeholders within the industry and the necessity for other companies to be early innovators. It is unclear how well this innovative material might be accepted and what kinds of concerns those within the construction industry might have about its use. Through our work with stakeholders in the urban development and construction sector, as well as the water and wastewater sector, we are examining how these emerging products may be challenging entrenched assumptions about municipal wastewater as a ‘nuisance’ to be disposed of. We therefore wish to explore the views and attitudes of construction and development professionals towards the use of such products recovered from wastewater, because their views could be an important determinant of the wider acceptance of circular solutions. Findings can also help producers of recovered cellulose to navigate the pathway ‘from concept to standard practice’ by signposting potential mechanisms to help encourage the wider adoption of this material within the construction sector, and to meet the demand and interest for more sustainable materials and support for circular economy initiatives.

If you can spare 6 minutes to support our research, please complete the online survey and share! You can find the survey link here.

If you have any questions at any time about the study, please contact Cat Shannon at Cranfield University. Email: Caitriona.F.Shannon@cranfield.ac.uk

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