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Construction boosts circular economy – demolition in Vattuniemi shows the way

The Ministry of the Environment estimates that approximately 1.6 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste is generated every year in Finland. According to the EU’s directive on waste, 70% of this should be reused, but at the moment the figure stands at only about 50%. This serves as a good reason to promote circular economy in construction, in addition to conserving natural resources and slowing down climate change and loss of biodiversity. A cluster programme, launched by the City of Helsinki, is also aiming to achieve circular economy in construction.

One of the cluster’s tangible examples is currently being implemented in Vattuniemi, Lauttasaari, where the plan is to demolish 16 dilapidated properties that are owned by private companies and have mainly been used as offices. Most of these properties are on Heikkiläntie and Itälahdenkatu streets. The aim is to use as much of the demolition material in construction as possible, preferably as it is.

‘Demolished properties may contain a lot of similar materials. We will assess whether some materials can be better reused if we combine the material flows. We will also identify possibilities to offer the area’s properties services that facilitate reuse,’ says Senior Expert Paula Eskola from Motiva, which is coordinating the project.

Participation by the entire construction chain

Skanska is one of the participants in the project. Skanska Kodit’s Land Acquisition Manager, Teemu Kärkäs, feels it is important that the industry operators are able to enhance their skills and identify circular economy opportunities in Vattuniemi, some of which may remain to be discovered.

‘If we can combine the material flows from all 16 properties, they can be utilised more easily. Simultaneously, we can find new business opportunities with the special waste components,’ Kärkäs says.

Skanska describes its site as a testing laboratory and a chance to gain new business partners and networks.

In addition to Motiva and Skanska Kodit, the circular economy cluster is working in close cooperation throughout the construction chain with Hartela, A-Insinöörit, SATO and JMB.

Increasingly helpful data

Currently, the City of Helsinki’s circular economy cluster is particularly focused on promoting circular economy in construction. At the same time, the aim is to promote business operations that follow the circular economy model. Data has been immensely useful: information about the demolished materials is compiled on a shared digital platform.

Nearly all of the operators taking part in Vattuniemi’s project have submitted their statements of the amounts and types of demolition materials they expect to generate at a given location. Some of this data has already been analysed and harmonised.

In fact, data collection plays a major role in the project. Information has been passed on to the participants at various events and gathered onto a shared platform, since it has been previously noticed that the utilisation of demolition materials is hindered by disparity between supply and demand, as information about current and future availability of materials does not reach the right operators or the information is received too late.

When all the information is made available well before demolition takes place, the materials can be taken into account when planning new construction or passed on to suitable operators, for example in the building product industry.

One of the benefits of Vattuniemi’s project is the large size of the condemned properties, as this will result in tremendous amounts of materials. According to estimates there will be 170,000 tonnes of concrete alone, which equals roughly 3,400 lorries.

During the project, the plan is to assess how useful the management, analysis and sharing of data is to different operators.

Benefits affect responsibility

Careful planning and implementation of a demolition survey takes time. The actual demolition work is also slower when materials are carefully detached for new use. Furthermore, the finer the demolition material, the more expensive the work.

‘We believe that operating responsibly is particularly beneficial, but simultaneously we are also gaining valuable experience in circular economy solutions for our future construction projects,’ says Land Acquisition Manager Teemu Kärkäs from Skanska Kodit.

It is also interesting to find the point where environmental responsibility meets the money. Another important insight is that increasing circular economy in construction may lead to more efficient reuse and a rise in the volumes. At the same time, operators will learn to value demolition materials in a new way, and systematic demolition work will no longer cost more. Subsequently, circular economy will become increasingly profitable.

Debating adequacy

One of the questions that still remains unanswered is whether demolition materials can be utilised in new construction as they are, based on the current safety standards.

The interpretation of the relevant legislation varies, and so far the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency has taken a hard line. On the other hand, maintaining a high standard of construction quality and safety when utilising demolition materials goes without saying, and it applies to areas such as indoor air and fire safety.

The participants of the circular economy cluster’s experiment are hoping that future residents will also begin to see the value in reused materials, such as building parts that are in good condition, and understand that the approach is about conserving natural resources, not about a need to cut material costs.

Big business potential

The aim is to use Vattuniemi’s project to create an operating model that can be applied to other demolition sites. Project Manager Mira Jarkko from the City of Helsinki is pleased about the exemplary actions of the participating companies and their willingness to reuse building parts and other elements.

‘The City has a circular economy roadmap, and we have made our carbon neutrality objectives increasingly strict. The consumption of virgin natural resources must be reduced, and in order to achieve this we will need everyone’s contribution,’ Jarkko says.

The City has allocated an appropriation for the project. The decision is based on the City’s belief that circular economy in construction possesses significant business potential.

‘We hope that Helsinki will gain some global visibility and strength as a city of circular economy. Some signs of this already exist, as we are getting more and more requests for presentations on the theme,’ Jarkko adds.

cluster programme for circular economy brings operators together to promote the
recycling and availability of construction materials and parts. Would your
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News photo: Kari Ylitalo