A sustainable skill base
If sustainablity is to be achieved we need a massive injection of funding to promote the materials recovery skill base in Britain. Politicians’ fine words will not obscure the fact that we need a workforce capable of fulfilling this agenda.
No amount of bureaucracy or rhetoric will compensate for the desperate need to skill up to enable material recovery and deconstruction to be an effective means of saving the embodied carbon in construction materials due for demolition.
Who will deconstruct this problem?
Increasingly, the case is made for careful recovery and segregation of material on demolition sites or renovation projects generating surplus materials. Who is going to deconstruct this material? Who will stockhold it? Where are the brokers and traders to merchandise and reinstall.
The sad reality is that the established Reclamation merchants are too few and far between and, dare I suggest, in the main too long in the teeth to accept the scale of the challenge that confronts us.
Updating the tools of the trade
Technology and mechanical skills for deconstruction are minimal in the UK whilst in the USA, serious consideration is increasingly given to technical equipment to make tasks more efficient. Too often the UK deconstructor is found with handtools that have not changed since our grandfathers’ days.
Setting aside the low tech available procedures for deconstruction and handling secondhand materials we have another more fundamental problem.
Will mechanical demolition take over? It’s very likely…
Where will the skilled labour come from to move forward in the next twenty years if techniques and procedures are to change, as they ideally should?
If government does not see the need to address these problems then remote mechanical demolition is the only outcome. Fact.
…unless we train a huge workforce
The objective of increasing recovery rates by seeking solutions further up the waste hierarchy, to ensure improved embodied carbon recovery, will fail unless we educate and train a huge workforce. This process needs to start immediately and by the time the imminent European legislation demanding pre-demolition planning audits arrives in full force, we may be ready to cope modestly with the expectations of our European partners.
How to achieve embodied carbon recovery (the answer’s not recycling)
Nothing will achieve construction waste embodied carbon recovery unless we deconstruct and maximise reuse. Failure to resolve these problems of skill and personnel will render recycling and energy from waste the only options available. By default we will see more material crushed and incinerated without serious alternative choices.
Recycling is increasingly efficient, safe and cost effective but it does not recover the carbon content of materials or reduce the need for importing virgin materials that are rapidly becoming scarce and are required by nations like China with more financial ability to control supply.
If we don’t invest now, we will pay the price in 20 years
Government needs to understand and address these problems. If we are proactive and imaginative we can lead the world in material recovery skills and technology development. This would enable the creation of new technologies and large scale employment opportunities.
If we ignore these issues we will discover the scale of our short sightedness twenty years from now. History says we will not adapt despite the fact that we have been warned in good time.
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