Accelerating the transition to a circular economy (CE) through exchange of excess materials: A conceptual framework for an excess materials exchange (EME) for the public sector, built environment in Ireland.
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The research examines the viability of accelerating the transition to a circular economy (CE) in Ireland through the exchange of excess materials from the public sector, built environment. This study uses Design Science Research (DSR) as described in Hevner et al. (2004) as its primary methodological approach. The research process consisted of problem identification and the motivation for the project, defining objectives for a solution and the results needed, and the creation of an innovative artefact. The study begins with a comprehensive literature review which examines the current state of the CE, and specifically the contribution of the built environment to material resource depletion globally, and nationally. A model was developed from the literature and was further refined using data from the primary research, consisting of a series of interviews with twelve (n=12) industry experts with expertise in economic and social research, procurement, design, and public policy areas. The results of the interview process identified several key factors which further influenced the development of the conceptual framework for excess materials exchange (EME). The main research findings were the following: a) the definition of excess materials must include a broad category of descriptors to reach scale, b) mandatory legislation, specifically through the mechanism of circular public procurement would enable adoption of an EME framework across the public sector, c) a carbon tax or allowance could incentivise the use of circular materials, and d) an EME should be regulated and governed by a commercial state agency, successful examples of which already exist within the Irish state. The conceptual framework for excess materials exchange is offered as a proposed solution to the problem of material and energy value loss, specifically as it concerns construction and demolition (C&D) waste. In Ireland C&D waste accounts for 8.2m tonnes in 2020 (EPA, 2023). Ireland’s circular material use rate is 1.6% which compares unfavourably with the EU circular material use rate average of 11.9% (Eurostat, 2023). The low circular materials use rate in Ireland suggests that a significant percentage of C&D waste could be reused, but it will require efficient systems and mechanisms to recover, categorise, certify, and manage materials along the value chain. The conceptual framework also proposes that incentivisation and mandatory legislation could increase adoption of an EME framework and accelerate the transition to the circular economy.
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