circularity and recycled aggregates: A Road Paved with opportunity

This contributed content originally appeared in a Manitoba Heavy Construction Association supplment in the Winnipeg Free Press 
9 April 2022

By Jo-Anne St. Godard and Paul Shorthouse

The construction, renovation and demolition (CRD) sector contributes more than $140 billion in GDP yet generates four million tonnes of waste in Canada every year. When sent to landfill, the economic value and environmental benefits of re-utilizing the resources inherent in the CRD waste stream are lost.

With infrastructure as the largest government spend, there is a significant opportunity to use procurement power as a strategic driver to recover and reuse CRD waste to support and accelerate Canada’s transition to a circular economy.

In the construction industry, there is no better material to start with than recycled aggregate.

Recycled aggregates are composed of reclaimed concrete material and asphalt pavement recovered from the construction, renovation and demolition waste stream. When recovered, recycled aggregates are valuable feedstock that can be re-purposed in infrastructure projects, replacing non- renewable and depleting virgin resources.

Although recycled aggregates are valuable inputs into construction projects, current procurement processes generally do not require or incent suppliers to source recycled aggregate. In instances where it is allowed, usage is limited to small percentages in applications such as road-base construction, and use is not effectively tracked.

While governments across Canada recognize the opportunity and benefits of using recycled aggregate, they remain reluctant, citing quality control and assurance issues.

The lack of harmonized standards amongst governments limits supplier interest and market capacity.

While Ontario has proven to be the exception, adopting standards that allow for a maximum of 30% aggregate from recycled sources for the construction of road base, shoulders, and backfill and 30% in recycled asphalt (hot mix) pavement, uptake by other provincial governments and municipalities is limited.

Fortunately, this is changing.

Governments are beginning to recognize the power and influence of procurement and how it can advance their environmental and social commitments while meeting budget expectations. For example, the universality of carbon-emission reduction commitments between the levels of government means there may be appetite to create national, harmonized procurement standards based on outcomes rather than narrow specifications.

Developing procurement criteria that focuses on outcomes, like the function of a road, rather than specifying specific materials allows industry to innovate and deliver environmental outcomes such as carbon-emission reduction, while remaining competitive.

Manitoba is following suit, indicating a shift toward performance-based specifications and is primed to be a national champion and innovator, partnering with suppliers to optimize the use of recycled concrete. Its leadership is one to watch.

Circular CRD is the start of an exciting journey in which products once lost to disposal are given new purpose, reducing the need to source virgin, natural and limited resources.

The procurement powers of governments are a key market shaper and can effectively shift markets from linear to circular.