Circular Economy and Materials in Buildings

Circular Economy and Materials in Buildings

This piece was originally published in the September 2018 issue of electroindustry.

Mark Kohorst, Senior Manager, Environment, Health & Safety, NEMA

The notion of a circular economy (CE) is emerging as a dominant template for crafting environmental policy in key global markets. Restorative and regenerative by design, it seeks to move beyond the traditional “take, make, dispose” approach that characterizes most economic systems. Instead, the aim becomes buying less and reusing more by keeping products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.

The European Union was an early and earnest promoter of the CE concept, adopting an ambitious Circular Economy Package in December 2015 that included legislative proposals on waste and an action plan to support circular processes in each step of the value chain. The CE movement in the United States—although not established in federal law—has been spurred by influential support from the business community. In Canada, it is advancing through public–private partnerships as well as policies adopted at the provincial level.[1],[2]

This Strategic Initiative will examine the implications of the CE concept for electrical products and systems, with particular focus on the selection of materials and product recyclability. It is intended to build on the work of a prior NEMA SI on Environmental and Health Product Declarations (EPD/HPD), which addressed the use of lifecycle analysis and hazard assessment to enhance the transparency of building products.

Drawing on the expertise within Member companies as well as outside consultants, this SI will produce a materials use and end-of-life management report to help Members assess the impact of their products and investigate ecologically friendly materials. The work will include a review of U.S. recycling laws and programs as well as European CE regulations.

[1] https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/event/2017-sustainability-and-circular-economy-summit

[2] Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario: Building the Circular Economy, https://www.ontario.ca/page/strategy-waste-free-ontario-building-circular-economy

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