Industry News

Are C&D waste recycling targets obstacles to growth?

The Waste Framework Directive (WFD) sets a target for 70 per cent recycling of construction, demolition and excavation (CD&E) waste across Europe by 2020. According to the latest figures available, the amount of this material that was recycled was 61.8 per cent. The straight presentation of this figure alone would indicate progress is being made and the EU target is achievable.

However, closer examination of the figures reveals there is a huge difference between the top performers and those that, as yet, have not grasped the opportunity presented by C&D recycling.

Those EU member states that are on target have either hit the target already or will do so without much more effort.

On the flip side, member states that will miss the target are so far behind schedule it is not achievable anyway.

{{image2-A:R-w:220}}What is the purpose of any target? Surely it is to drive improvements, increase efficiency and encourage innovation. The 70 per cent recycling target in the WFD does none of these things in its current form. By not addressing this issue now, we will waste the next six years waiting to report on a target, when we already know the answer.

The UK, Germany, France, Benelux and the Alpine states will all hit the 70 per cent target – some have reached it already – without having to change anything about how they approach the recycling of construction, demolition and excavation waste for the next six years.

The Nordics, Iberia, Italy and countries in central and eastern Europe will all miss the target, but will have made some investment in basic processing technologies for this material in a bid to demonstrate some degree of effort to reach the target.

While the industry focuses its efforts on a meaningless 70 per cent recycling target, the volume of CD&E waste produced across Europe will rise to more than 1.1 billion tonnes per year – a 26 per cent increase on the current level.

A recent report from consultancy Frost & Sullivan reported that while 95 per cent of C&D materials are reusable, recycling is just not being managed properly. An EU report from June 2013 titled Ambitious Waste Targets and Local and Regional Waste Management includes the following commentary:
… best practices in Europe show that recycling rates over 80 per cent and 90 per cent are feasible. For those countries who are already achieving higher re-use, recycling and recovery rates, the WFD does not provide an incentive to achieve higher targets. In principle, differentiated targets for these member states could be set in the WFD or alternatively in their national legislation.

It is clear that there is recognition from industry commentators and at EU level that the 70 per cent target from the WFD is no longer fit for purpose. However, any search for an alternative seems to have a very blinkered view and fails to ask two very important questions:
1. Does a “one size fits all” approach work?
2. Are the targets focused in the right way? Will they drive efficiency, protect the environment and encourage innovation?


If we look at the first question: does a “one size fits all” approach work?

It is obvious from the latest figures available that the targets have created a clear split between those member states that will achieve the target and those that will not. To accurately predict this six years in advance of the deadline is all the evidence required that the current targets need to be looked at again.

If we are to look again at these targets, then it is clear they need to be constructed with some allowances made for the individual market conditions within each member state.

Member states where there are limited volumes of virgin materials are obviously going to perform better than states where virgin materials are in abundance. Member states with high landfill taxes are obviously incentivising the recycling of C&D waste material.

There are some member states with relatively very low landfill costs, so the disposal of C&D waste is still the most economically viable option. While this is not sustainable in the long term, landfill taxes would need to rise by a huge multiple to bring these member states into line with others where high landfill charges already exist. This is simply not achievable by the 2020 deadline, as no sitting government is going to stand over an increase as dramatic as this.


All this assumes that simply measuring the volume of C&D waste recycled is the best way to drive improvements and innovation in the sector.

{{image3-A:R-w:220}}This leads us on to the second question: are the targets focused in the right way? Will they drive efficiency, protect the environment and encourage innovation?

The vast majority of CD&E materials in Europe are processed using basic size reduction (crushing) and classification (screening) technology. The end result is recycled products that are only suitable for very low value construction applications (roadbase, general fill). It is also clear that backfilling is still the dominant application for most of the recycled CD&E waste in Europe.

Within the WFD, the targets to be achieved by 2020 are “preparation for re-use, recycling and backfilling of 70 per cent construction and demolition waste”. This seems to suggest there is recognition that backfilling does not constitute recycling – yet when material is used for backfilling it is currently included within the recycling rates reported by member states.

The reason for including backfilling within the reported numbers is easy to understand – it makes it very easy to hit the 70 per cent target by introducing the most basic processing technologies and producing material with little or no commercial value. This is a fundamental flaw in the current approach to CD&E waste recycling in Europe.


The targets as they currently exist are simply aimed at reducing the volume of CD&E waste sent to landfill. This fails to recognise the valuable resource that CD&E waste is, and the potential that exists for the production of higher value materials from this waste stream.

While there is no doubt there is a requirement for materials to be used in low value construction applications, it is not doing anything for the perception of recycled aggregates when this is seen by many as the only potential use for this material.

By introducing advanced processing systems available for CD&E waste we can expand the range of applications for this material and change the perception of recycled sand and aggregates. It is only by doing this that we will maximise the potential that exists from the efficient recycling of CD&E waste.

Evidence exists that recycled aggregates are a viable alternative to virgin aggregates in concrete – yet only a tiny proportion of recycled material across Europe is currently used in concrete manufacturing.

Australian government guidelines state up to 30 per cent of recycled aggregate can be used for structural concrete without any noticeable difference in workability and strength when compared with virgin aggregates.

Many in the virgin aggregates business see recycled material as a threat, when in fact it is exactly the opposite. The exploitation of recycled aggregates to their full potential ensures we protect aggregate supply from a sustainable source. It prolongs the life of the finite resources over which we are merely the guardians.

To answer the question – do the current European C&D waste recycling targets drive efficiency, protect the environment and encourage innovation? The answer is a resounding “No”.

If we instead target the increased use of recycled C&D materials in higher value construction applications such as concrete, we can turn this around. This would encourage the use of advanced processing technologies that exist for this material, which will produce recycled sand and aggregates with a much broader scope of application.


Increased specification of these higher value materials builds trust in the material and improves the perception of recycled material, leading to increased demand.

This in turn creates demand from material producers for advanced processing systems. These producers need to invest in this technology to stay competitive and meet the new demands of their customers.

This forces equipment manufacturers to continue to develop new ways of processing such material – to drive innovation in processing technologies available and maintain their own competitive advantage.

All these factors combine to change the perception of recycled material and ensure we are in a position to efficiently deal with the 1.1 billion tonnes of this material that will be generated across Europe by 2020.

Another indirect benefit is that we address the difficulties in recruiting people to the construction materials and recycling sectors.

We all play a part in demonstrating that we are operating in a 21st century industry that is prepared to go over and above basic adherence to legislation. By demonstrating our commitment to sustainability and maximising value from recycled materials, we make our industry a much more attractive proposition as an innovative sector with a bright future. This is essential if we are to remain relevant, stay viable and secure the future innovation that will keep our sector thriving and strong.

Peter Craven is CDE Global’s head of marketing.

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