The current materials supply chain problem that is being experienced in UK construction is a prime example of the liner economy gone wrong. While there is no shortage of waste being produced by infrastructure and construction in the UK, due to a number of factors the supply of certain construction materials is trickling though and others seriously are delayed. Demand is up and the supply is simply not keeping pace.

Though it was predicted, and to some degree main contractors were able to mitigate delays, it highlights a bigger problem can can’t be solved by stockpiling or making border ports more efficient.  The problem is the heavy reliance on virgin raw materials, the fact that often up to 10% of materials discarded are unused and that construction accounts for 50% of carbon emissions.

The production of steel accounts for 15% of carbon emissions, cement 19%, and these are two elements that make up the bulk of materials in infrastructure. Many main contractors have made public commitments to working towards achieving net zero targets. This will not be achievable unless the reliance of raw materials is reduced, construction waste is reduced by more efficient building processes, and greater adoption of using recycled and repurposed materials becomes the norm.

Waste costs beyond monetary value

Acknowledging that higher prices are inevitable and budgeting for waste may be accepted traditional way of doing business, but that should not be where the thought process stops. Not when there are other alternatives available. The challenge is not sourcing and securing materials as much as it’s changing a mindset to a more circular economy thinking. That’s where the more sustainable solution to the supply chain problem can be found.

Waste cannot be resolved by recycling alone, although that is a step in the right direction. Greater efficiency starts in design, looking at a broader option of materials and design choices including new innovations and technologies. Sourcing materials locally or altering design elements to include repurposed or recycled materials can help reduce costs and mitigate the risk of supply shortages. But more importantly, reusing materials that are already in circulation within the economy can make a massive contribution to net zero ambitions.

The construction industry bears a heavy mantle of responsibility, to not only spearhead post-pandemic recovery but to do so more sustainably. It’s a commitment that requires more than lip-service and a genuine desire to find workable solutions.