Last edited 02 Jul 2018

End of life potential

The UK construction industry is the largest consumer of resources, requiring more than 400 million tonnes of material a year (ref. Davis Langdon). 32% of landfill waste comes from the construction and demolition of buildings.

It is important therefore that steps are taken to ensure waste is minimise during construction, and the potential of buildings and their components is maximised at the end of life of a particular phase of use.

End of life (EOL) refers to the final stages of a product or material’s phase of use. The treatment and disposal of construction materials once they have reached their end of life is an increasingly important issue as steps are taken to try and handle them in as efficient a way as possible that minimises waste, carbon emissions and the use of landfill sites.

A site waste management plan (SWMP) can be used to set out how materials will be managed efficiently and disposed of during the construction of the works, explaining how the re-use and recycling of materials will be maximised. For more information, see Site waste management plan.

In terms of the end of life potential of a material, there are several options available:

  • Refurbishment offers a sustainable approach to refreshing buildings without the disruption and waste of demolition. See Refurbishment for more information.
  • Retrofitting can give buildings a new lease of life, updating them by adding features they did not have when they were constructed. See Retrofit for more information.
  • Re-use involves dismantling and removing products and components so they can be re-used elsewhere. See Design for deconstruction for more information.
  • Recycling can be an option if re-use is not, allowing as many of a buildings products, components and materials to re-enter the supply chain. Steel, for example, has a high intrinsic value which means it is supported by a well-developed and efficient scrap collection infrastructure. Products that are the same as, or of higher quality than, the original material can be formed from steel captured at the end of a building’s life. For more information, see Recycling.
  • Downcycling is a secondary use not of the same value as the first. For example, the majority of concrete from demolition sites is crushed and used as sub-base or fill. Aggregates from demolition may be re-used in concrete production but its use is restricted both by rules governing maximum percentages allowed and also by supply, since the amount of aggregate that can be recovered for this purpose is limited. Where aggregates are re-used in concrete, new cement, the source of most of the CO2, emitted in concrete, production, is still needed.

Considering these issues during the design and construction of a building will help maximise its end of life potential. For example:

  • The use of simple, standard connections will make it easier to dismantle and re-use building components.
  • Prefabricated components may be easier to remove and re-use.
  • Designing flexible spaces may increase the potential that they can be re-used for other purposes.
  • The latest high-tech products and components are more likely to become redundant.
  • Resilience to climate change may become an important design limitation in the future.
  • Legislation changes may restrict re-use.

See future proofing construction for more information.

It is important that consideration of these issues is recorded, including a list of building elements and how they will be best reused/reclaimed/recycled and instructions for the deconstruction of elements; otherwise it is possible that buildings will simply be demolished at the end of their life, because knowledge about their potential has been lost.

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