Concrete Roads - an integral part of the circular economy

Resource efficiency and the circular economy are words on everyone's lips at the moment. In December, the European Commission released its new “Circular Economy Package”, which introduced various pieces of legislation or initiatives designed to move Europe towards a more efficient, less wasteful economy.

The package includes initiatives to encourage greater recovery and recycling of construction and demolition waste. Often an emphasis is put on buildings, but roads and infrastructure have a contribution to make too. 

Resource-efficient concrete roads

Roads built using cement and concrete solutions embody circular economy principles. Taking the European Commission's own waste hierarchy (Prevention, Reuse, Recycling, Recovery, Disposal), it is clear that concrete practices in general, and pavements in particular, lie in the upper - i.e. more “virtuous” -  levels of this hierarchy.

Concrete pavements have always been appreciated for their durability and low maintenance - and it's not hard to grasp how this translates into sustainability benefits. The advantages of concrete in pavements span the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic and environmental.

Durability means prevention of waste - the most resource efficient road is one you resurface once every 30 or 40 years, rather than every 10 years.

As far as reuse and recycling are concerned, both reuse of aggregates from demolition concrete, and soil stabilisation & in-situ recycling (see boxes below) are excellent examples of circular economy - even though they don't follow a traditional product-to-product closed recycling loop. Indeed, often the most sustainable way to reuse aggregates from demolition concrete from buildings is in road base. This is a good example of open loop recycling - material from one application is reused in another, thus reducing the extraction of virgin material. This demonstrates the need for policy on circular economy to be open enough to all types of reuse and recycling, where these have an environmental (as well as social and economic) benefit.

Both technologies mentioned are technically not difficult and are already in use, but smartly written circular economy policies will help encourage their uptake.

It is clear that a shift to a more circular economy - when done in the right way - has benefits for the economy and society as well as the environment.

Policy requests

Given these considerations, EUPAVE wishes to put forward the following policy suggestions:
1. Policy should recognise the benefits of both open and closed loop recycling
2. Public procurement must take a long term view and avoid focusing on initial costs or impacts: durability contributes to resource efficiency
3. Recycling is one of the means to greater sustainability, not an end in itself. All measures leading to greater resource efficiency should be encouraged.

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To download the position paper in pdf, click HERE.