Industry ‘could cut carbon by 40%’ with waste reduction

The government should set targets for the construction industry to reduce its use of raw materials by at least a third in the next 12 years, a thinktank has said.

The Green Alliance said that such a move would reduce the industry’s carbon emissions by 39 per cent.

In a new report titled Circular Construction, the body notes that, according to government statistics, construction, demolition and excavation work generated 62 per cent of the UK’s entire waste in 2018.

It urged Whitehall to push for the preservation of existing buildings, restrict demolition work and increase the reuse of building materials.

It calls for officials to:

  • set a new target to reduce raw-material use in the sector by at least a third by 2035.
  • ensure better data is available for building projects, including via ‘material passports’ for buildings that track information about the components and products used.
  • allow fewer demolitions, leading to more retrofits.
  • zero-rate VAT on retrofits, which would bring them into line with new-build projects.

Currently, there is a 20 per cent VAT charge on most repair and maintenance work in the UK, meaning it can be cheaper to demolish a building than to retrofit it.

The Green Alliance notes that new energy-efficiency requirements will mean that, from 2025, new buildings will need to generate 75 to 80 per cent less carbon after they are built, but says this does not cover the sector’s full environmental impact.

Green Alliance head of resource policy Libby Peake said: “The government has not done enough to tackle the huge waste and emissions arising from UK construction. With the right targets and policies, however, ministers could help the industry cut emissions and material use rapidly, while still providing the housing and infrastructure we need.”

Several figures in the construction industry have previously spoken of the need to increase the use of retrofit, including Mace chief executive and Construction Leadership Council co-chair Mark Reynolds, who has called for a national strategy to widen its use, as well as for the removal of VAT on refurbishment works.

Bouygues UK chief executive Rob Bradley told Construction News in 2021 that the contractor was increasingly looking towards repurposing rather than demolishing and rebuilding.

Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining chief executive Colin Church said: “Everything physical we use and have around us is either grown or mined, with associated impacts – not only on carbon, but also on biodiversity, water, local society, and so on. As this report shows, construction must and can reduce its demand on extraction to minimise all those negative impacts.”

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