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We’re reaching ‘peak recycling’ say aggregate suppliers

23 Feb 22 The practice of reusing building materials is now so widespread in the UK that there is little scope for further improvement in recycling, aggregates suppliers have said.

The Mineral Products Association (MPA) says that recovery of construction waste to produce recycled aggregates is close to reaching its upper limit.

The vast majority of reusable materials are now being put back into use in construction.

In a report* based on data from 2020, the MPA estimates that 28% of aggregates for construction comes from recycled and secondary sources – some 62 million tonnes in 2020. That means the mineral products industry recycles more than any other sector by volume and places Britain among the leading recyclers of construction materials in Europe, it said.

 Recycled aggregates, around 55 million tonnes of which were produced in 2020, come from construction, demolition & excavation wastes (CDEW) such as crushed concrete and brick, old rail ballast and material from groundworks. Secondary aggregates, which accounted for the remaining seven million tonnes in 2020, are derived from industrial or extractive processes including the production of China clay, slate and chalk, plus glass reprocessing, mining spoil, incinerator ash, and slag from iron and steel production.

The MPA report also highlights that newly-quarried primary materials – virtually all of which come from UK sources – are still needed to meet the remaining 72% of the total aggregate demand from the construction sector. Even in years when the need for aggregates falls due to a reduction in construction activity, the volume of materials available for recycling also drops proportionally because there’s less demolition to give rise to source material.

MPA chief executive Nigel Jackson said: “Recycled and secondary aggregates is an outstanding circular economy story that supports and delivers the UK waste strategy, yet is barely recognised by the government. When MPA members prepare for a planning application to extract new minerals for the construction industry, they are often faced with the argument that they should be recycling more. The fact is that aggregates producers are already recycling the available materials, and have been for many years, to meet the demand as efficiently and sustainably as possible. It’s therefore important to stress that primary aggregates are still needed to meet around 70% of demand from construction and that situation will continue for the long term.”

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 Because of the lack of readily available information on recycling of construction materials, to analyse the data the MPA has developed a methodology to track the contribution of recycled and secondary aggregates to overall aggregates supply. The system is based on published statistics from MPA members and other third parties, combined with a number of tried and tested assumptions.

The MPA report was put together by  director of economic affairs Aurelie Delannoy. She said: “The growing policy focus on the circular economy contrasts with the absence of regular data monitoring on the use of recycled and secondary aggregates, both at national and regional scale. MPA has developed a methodology to track the contribution of these materials to overall aggregates supply with the aim to fill this gap.”

 While many industries are still grappling with the challenges of implementing an effective circular economic model, heavy-side building materials producers have made good use of available resources, the MPA says. Companies are working to produce recycled and secondary aggregates that meet requirements for use across different construction sectors.

 Any materials that cannot be turned into suitable construction aggregate are used in land remediation and quarry restoration schemes.

*The MPA recycling report The Contribution of Recycled and Secondary Materials to Total Aggregates Supply in Great Britain is available on the MPA website.

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