The goal of the project is to study and analyse the “urban metabolism” of the Brussels-Capital Region (RBC) in a key sector — the construction industry — with the aim of identifying and encouraging the creation of positive-value loops and eliminating the concept of waste. The analysis takes a bottom-up approach based on studying representative typologies in Brussels and extrapolating the results over a regional scale. The research also examines the opportunities for creating new channels offered by the sector’s entire value chain; the technical and legal aspects related to recovery (re-use and recycling); and the impact of design on potential current and future use of end-of-life materials as new materials (reversible design and design for change). The ultimate goal is to devise a tool for anticipating, planning, managing and successfully exploiting the local material resources of the building stock and construction industry in the RBC.

This FEDER-funded project addresses the major socio-economic challenges of the Brussels region, including resource management; creating and boosting industrial sectors; and generating employment. As well as forming part of a wider sustainable development approach, the BBSM meets the objectives of the circular economy encouraged by Europe and the RBC through PREC (Regional Circular Economy Programme).

Project Description

The aim of the BBSM project is to demonstrate that end-of-life materials are valuable resources: reintroducing them into a cyclical production process is a positive step for sustainable development in the Brussels-Capital Region (RBC).

The Europe of 27’s annual use of material resources is estimated at 16 tonnes per capita, with a substantial part of this figure originating in imports. Parallel to this intensive consumption — and as a direct consequence — we produce 6 tonnes of waste per inhabitant per year in Europe. In spite of an increasingly efficient management system, the numbers continue to rise. The increased consumption of resources, combined with mounting waste production, is having a devastating effect on our ecosystems. As a result, the Europe 2020 strategy has devised a Roadmap for a Resource-Efficient Europe that sets out targets for the EU. One of the roadmap’s priority goals for 2020 is to recover waste as a resource, with prevention as a preliminary objective: in other words, to cut waste production at source. One of the key sectors identified is the construction industry. It should be noted here that the European construction sector uses about 40% of extracted raw materials and generates 35 % of all solid waste. This waste is, therefore, an under-valued and under-exploited potential source of material.

The RBC is characterised by a sizeable population density and a heavily urbanised environment — 56 % of the built-up area. The construction industry is by far the largest producer of waste in the region, creating an estimated 628,000 tonnes in 2006. The largest slice of this waste consists of inert materials (concrete, masonry, asphalt, etc.), with 96 % of the total mass flow and the recycling process reaching a reported 80%. However, such recycling includes the production of backfill and capping layers for road infrastructure. This involves transforming initial materials, which results in a loss of quality, in an operation widely known as “downcycling”. Minimising waste production and use of resources are of great importance, as is maximising waste recovery through re-use and recycling (with the same level of quality; known as “upcycling”). This is a major challenge in the context of sustainable development in the Brussels region.

This study looks at the Brussels region from a metabolic perspective, with the focus on the construction industry. It considers the building stock as a potential repository of material, and analyses the dynamics of material flows generated by the need to renovate the stock to close the loop on processes for recovering materials. Using industrial ecology and natural cycles as the theoretical basis, end-of-life materials need be viewed as resources that can be re-introduced into a material production process in a cyclical manner : waste, in short, is converted into new materials. The aim of the research is to demonstrate and develop the above by examining the entire range of environmental, economic and social implications.

The BBSM project forms one of the key sectors identified by Europe and the Brussels region and, as such, it will look at all the environmental, economic and social factors associated with the construction waste cycle. Three integrated approaches — see below — will ensure that innovation is promoted and transferred at the same time as boosting the urban metabolism of the RBC.

Innovative : a forward-looking, bottom-up approach is applied to regional material resources in the form of a potential repository, i.e. an analysis is conducted upstream of waste treatment and collection channels to identify “niches” for generating new sectors (the forward-looking approach) and to strengthen and develop existing pathways.

Inclusive : this involves identifying new and existing consolidated niches, which will help create (potentially low-skilled) jobs in the treatment, sorting and collection sectors. It also involves identifying (as yet non-existent) intermediaries or complementary actors (new profiles such as, for example, facilitators and / or appraisers working upstream of the project with the architect).

Sustainable : the material stock in the Brussels region is recovered with the aim of moving towards a circular economy. This approach make it possible to reduce the use of resources and imports of new materials as well as cut down the amount of waste to be disposed of and treated. The environmental benefits include extending the lifespan / recovery of end-of-life materials, generating secondary raw materials and alleviating the pressure on resources.