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What can we do to end waste?

Historically, our economy has depended on a linear system where natural resources are extracted and processed to be raw materials; raw materials are manufactured into consumer products; consumers then dispose of the products after use.  

However, natural resources are limited, and we need to use them more efficiently. In order to address this challenge, we need a circular economy which is about maximising resources and designing waste out of the system.  

The world consumes 100 billion tonnes of materials per year
Less than 9% of the global economy is circular.
Less than 9 percent of the global economy is circular
UN Global Goal 12 calls for responsible consumption.
Infrastructure & housing have the largest resource footprint of 38.8 billion tonnes per year
Infrastructure & housing have the largest resource footprint of 38.8bn tonnes per year.

Source: Circularity Gap Report 2020, The Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE).

Engineering a net zero world

Moving from a linear to a circular economy means the top priority must be preventing waste in the first place, closely followed by reusing and recycling materials whenever possible. 

So how do civil engineers support the world to become more circular?  

They are vital to integrating sustainable materials and circular principles into the built world around us. Civil engineers ensure that recycled and renewable materials are taken into consideration during the design phase of construction projects, as well as testing and monitoring the quality of these materials throughout the projects. 

Sending waste to landfill should be the last resort for all of us, and we need civil engineers to design and build modern recycling facilities that enable the materials we consume to be reused in a continuous loop. 

Ask an engineer

"Engineers have a huge opportunity to end waste. First, we must find ways to consume less and use what we have better, for longer.

Astoundingly, it's estimated that 13% of the materials that go to a construction site go direct to waste without even being used!

To cut carbon and reduce waste, we must use these materials more efficiently and keep them in use for longer.

Civil engineers can also 'design for deconstruction', ensuring that materials are kept in their highest value form, and available to use again and again across projects.

If we can all be more circular and consume less, together, we can eliminate waste and protect our planet's resources for future generations."

Brittany Harris

Project case study

Newark Waste and Water Improvement Project 

Severn Trent Water invested £60m to improve the waste and water supply for Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire.

The project aimed to relieve 400 homes and business from sewer flooding and provide a robust waste and water supply system to serve the town for many years to come.

Water, sanitation and wastewater utilities play an important role in the circular economy.