Change planning laws to reduce waste and refurbish old buildings, engineers say

  • University of Sheffield researchers are calling for circular economy principles to be embedded into planning regulations to reduce waste and make a green recovery from Covid-19
  • Circular economy principles would put more emphasis on refurbishing old buildings and reusing materials
  • Plans to include circular economy principles in planning regulations for London are currently being considered - researchers are calling for similar measures to be adopted across the UK
  • Government’s recently launched Circular Economy Package aims to recycle 65 per cent of the UK's municipal waste by 2035 - but fails to tackle construction and demolition waste

Builders working on the outside of a building

The government needs to go further with its circular economy plans if the UK is to reduce its waste and make a green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to engineers from the University of Sheffield.

Following the announcement of a Circular Economy Package, Dr Danielle Densley Tingley from the University’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineering is calling for the government to embed circular economy principles into the planning regulations for buildings across the UK.

The Circular Economy Package is aiming to recycle 65 per cent of the UK’s municipal waste by 2035. However, it fails to tackle waste from the construction sector. Dr Densley Tingley - an expert on sustainable engineering - says the government needs to do more to encourage the construction industry to reuse materials and refurbish old buildings rather than develop new ones nationwide.

Plans are currently being considered to embed circular economy principles in the planning process for buildings in London as part of a draft London Plan, but the Sheffield engineer is calling for the government to go even further and embed the principles in the planning process for buildings across the UK.

Adding circular economy principles to the planning process would put greater emphasis on retrofitting buildings, designing for adaptability, deconstruction and reuse of materials at end of life. It would both reduce waste, and help to reduce the UK’s demand for new materials.

Dr Densley Tingley said: “The built environment is responsible for around 60 per cent of the UK’s material consumption, and approximately 30 per cent of its waste production. To reduce these impacts, and meet urgent net zero carbon targets we must embed circular economy principles in the construction sector. Requiring a circular economy statement as part of planning applications would encourage designers to embed circular principles at an early design stage.”

The call from the Sheffield engineer builds on a campaign launched by the Architects’ Journal to incentivize property owners to upgrade their buildings rather than demolish them.

It also follows the development of a new tool by Dr Densley Tingley and her team at the University of Sheffield’s Urban Flows Observatory that can help to design and refurbish buildings more sustainably.

The Regenerate tool can be used by designers to measure how their building projects fit into a circular building framework.

The framework consists of a series of Circularity Criteria (CCs), which are split into four categories: design for adaptability, design for deconstruction, circular materials, and resource efficiency. These criteria are then applied to the core building layers: site, structure, skin, services and space.

The framework can be applied to all building types, retrofits and new builds, and also provides practical examples and case study references.

The tool highlights design strategies that should be embedded into a construction project to ensure that the least material is used, over multiple lifecycles.

The University of Sheffield is planning on incorporating the tool in future building projects over £2 million and has helped to test it.

To access the Regenerate tool, visit:

The University of Sheffield engineers who have developed the Regenerate tool are also inviting building designers to submit data on their building projects to help further research into the potential of reusing old buildings across the UK. To get involved in this research, visit:

Additional information

Civil and Structural Engineering at the University of Sheffield

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Sean Barton
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The University of Sheffield
0114 222 9852