The circular economy: why change economic models?






Roger Baltus will now have a regular guest contributor to his column: Cécile Roland, Environmental Applications Manager with VMZINC. An opportunity for architects, project owners and all building professionals to (re)discover the “sustainable” qualities of zinc.

The circular economy: why change economic models?

Environmental challenges, combined with an increase in the world population (+ 43% of growth expected between 2012 and 2100), necessitate reconsideration of the foundations of our consumer society. And this needs to be done urgently, because consumption of the earth’s natural resources is already exceeding its capacity to regenerate these resources and absorb waste. This is a necessity concerning all sectors of activity, and in particular the construction industry.

Economy and resources: switching from a linear “depletion” model to a circular “preservation” model

Our current economic model is linear and was inherited from the industrial revolution of the 19th century, a period when natural resources were very abundant and seemed infinite. The linear model consists of Exploiting (the resource) -> Processing -> Consuming -> Discarding.

However, since the end of the last century, world pressure on natural resources has increased. According to WWF, today more than a planet and a half would be necessary to meet the needs of the world population1.

So change is necessary, a change both of our societal model and of our economic model. This change must aim to break the link between economic growth and depletion of resources: this is the ultimate objective of the circular economy.

What is the logic underpinning the circular economy?

This new model is inspired by the functioning of natural ecosystems. The circular economy considers products as flows of material or energy that can be re-injected in successive utilisation loops. So what was considered as “waste” in the logic of the linear economy becomes a “resource” in the logic of a circular economy.

The circular economy encourages rethinking of design, production and consumption modes. Where pertinent, it recommends extending the duration of use of products, use rather than possession of goods, and re-use and recycling of components.

Ecodesign makes it possible from the earliest phases of product design to take into account environmental constraints and the requirements of a more circular economy such as longevity and the capacity to be repaired, disassembled, re-used or re-cycled. The search for responses and solutions to these new challenges is in fact a source of innovation and creation of new value.

How does rolled zinc contribute to the circular economy?

In the context of the construction and building industry, rolled zinc responds particularly well to the requirements of a more circular economy, thanks to its specific qualities. Thanks to its longevity – over one hundred years – and a record high recycling rate of 96% in Europe and 98 % in France, rolled zinc saves on natural resources. At end of life it becomes a new resource that is used to manufacture numerous goods (brass, galvanisation, pigments, cosmetics – see post 01).

Recovery of used zinc from buildings is easy thanks to adjusted constructive systems (removable), on roofs, facades and rainwater systems.

Recycling of used zinc, its recovery and its transformation into secondary zinc is now a well-established, local industrial value chain that contributes to sustainable development of local economies.

By now you’ll have understood that rolled zinc is today already responding to the requirements of the circular economy. And when rolled zinc products are manufactured using an ecodesign process and production sites with stringent practices in terms of environmental preservation (as is the case for VMZINC solutions, some of which are already Footprint Progress certified for ecodesign and ISO 14001 certified for production), they contribute more extensively to meeting the environmental challenges of sustainable building.

Watch this space next month. On the agenda: Energy consumption required to manufacture rolled zinc (sometimes referred to as “grey energy”).Watch this space next month. On the agenda: Energy consumption required to manufacture rolled zinc (sometimes referred to as “grey energy”).

In the mean time, we welcome your comments and questions!

Cécile Roland
Environmental Applications Manager VMZINC

(1) WWF Living Planet report 2014

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