Circular economy in housing and construction

In this analysis, we take a look at the economical, environmental, and societal aspects of our housing and construction sector.

Circular economy in the context of housing and buildings includes tough challenges at different levels, ranging from our use of space to the composition and use of building materials. A systemic perspective is necessary to optimally guide the circular transition, in addition to and in alignment with other transitions such as the renovation challenge, the energy transition or the construction shift.

From a spatial perspective, we see that further spatial occupation for buildings continues. The pressure on space is related to the growth in the number of households and businesses, which results in an increasing need for living space and business space, and shows the importance of a well-thought-out approach to meeting these needs.

There is a lot of renovation going on in Flanders: this is necessary to improve the energy performance of our buildings in light of achieving the climate objectives. After all, the emissions associated with the use of buildings are very high. From a circular point of view, renovation is a strategy to keep buildings in use for as long as possible and in the best conditions. However, renovation, like new construction, is very material-intensive and a focus on circular (re)construction techniques and strategies such as modular and adaptable construction and renovation is crucial. Today, there is a lack of data to comprehensively reflect the efforts and progress of such evolutions.

In terms of building materials, the figures show very high recycling rates. We know that there are major differences in the quality of the secondary materials that are extracted, and today there are few figures to map this quality.

In summary, we see that there is still a long way to go towards circularity: the built-up area is still expanding and the required quantities of new raw materials are increasing faster than secondary raw materials can be supplied from recycling, in which a loss of quality easily occurs. At the level of buildings, at first sight we see a number of circular achievements, for example their average age and their heating efficiency are increasing, but it is not yet possible to adequately map circular (re)building. Other data and knowledge gaps encountered concern, for example, non-residential buildings, compositions of building materials, end-of-life processes and the social impact of buildings and housing.

The images above build on our report from 2021, which contains further background and explanation of the figures and conclusions.