Circular Economy: A Sustainable and Responsible Anti-Waste Issue

A challenge presents itself in a context we know to be alarming, in which the accumulation of waste and the scarcity of natural resources continue to grow. Whether we are consumers or a business, we must move toward a new economy. Saint-Gobain, present on the entire materials production chain, is committed to the circular economy by taking into account the entire product life cycle.
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  • Nothing is wasted, everything is transformed...
On the way to a resource-efficient economy!
The facts are simple: there is a lack of natural resources. Every year, humanity consumes more than the planet can provide. This reality requires us to review how we produce and consume. In order to adapt to this problem, businesses must make the choice of moving from linear logic to circular logic, by transforming the way they operate.

Did you know ?

Plaster, glass and cast iron are materials that can be endlessly recycled!

The fight against waste, an ecological challenge

The building sector is far from being top of the class as regards sustainable development, it consumes an enormous quantity of resources and generates a lot of waste. Forty percent of global resources are used in the manufacture of materials, particularly sand for the manufacturing of cement. This sector alone produces 40% of the world's solid waste. Everyone doing construction work at home can easily realize this. A significant amount of material is wasted: more quantities than required, poor installation, difficult-to-access recycling centers, etc. And the manufacture of these materials is dependent on exhaustible natural resources. 

One of the answers is to build in a different way. In this regard, Saint-Gobain offers many solutions for lightweight construction, which are genuine alternatives to traditional brick or cement-based mass construction, to provide very clear benefits in terms of decreasingly intense use of resources as well as reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and many more possible uses of buildings, which are more flexible and easily adaptable to changing lifestyles or occupants.

Today’s challenge is to succeed in building or renovating more efficiently a greater number of buildings, with fewer materials, while at the same time reducing resource waste. The ecological and economic stakes are high. 

Sustainable Resource Management

In the face of this challenge, in 2015 Saint-Gobain worked on its Sustainable Resource Management policy. The aim is to promote the transition to a circular economy. This involves a three-fold thrust: having maximum recycled content in products, generating minimum work-site waste, recovering the remaining waste. Saint-Gobain set the target of reducing by 50% its unrecovered production waste by 2025 compared to 2010.

To support this approach, Saint-Gobain is developing tools in-house. SCORE, for example, facilitates the assessment of performance for construction products in accordance with sustainability criteria. It takes five categories of indicators into account, such as energy and climate, health and the circular economy.  This helps to identify pathways to innovation, in order to develop new products that are more sustainable or to improve existing products.

Saint-Gobain also encourages entrepreneurial initiatives that share the logic of the circular economy and responsibility for the environment. In 2016, Marie Combarieu, formerly Digital Communications and Marketing manager at Saint-Gobain, created Ecodrop, an application and service for contractors. "I had an intuition. I quickly understood that contractors regard waste management as a complex and expensive problem."

The design of sustainable materials

To reduce materials waste, products need to be improved at the design stage: Thinking about materials by considering their uses before, during, and after, so that they can be adapted to the city of the future. Commitment to offering products with an extended lifespan for more sustainable construction. And replace old reflexes – manufacture, use, throw away – with new ones: reduce, re-use, recycle.

Diane Maffre, Sustainable Products and Solutions Manager at Saint-Gobain explains: “Taking the challenges of the circular economy into account in innovation is a response to the great environmental and climate challenges we are facing today. This more responsible approach aims to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and non-renewable raw materials, and to consume more sustainably.”

With eco-design, Saint-Gobain seeks to make buildings more flexible and adaptable to allow straightforward customization, without wasting resources. According to Pierre-André de Chalendar : “The challenge is to build properly from the outset, without waste, and to consider dismantling from the outset, in order to facilitate a building being considered as a materials bank.” A few examples: the possibility of removing the glass from a window without having to remove the frame; walls or ceilings that are removable and easily reusable. Focusing on custom production also limits the amount of waste generated on work-sites, such as the Lean service offered by Placo, plaster boards pre-cut to the right size. And above all, reinventing uses for buildings to optimize them over time and make every transformation possible.

Materials that can be endlessly recycled 

There will always be waste after a building job, but it can be reduced. Closed-loop working and the re-integration into the production chain of materials and products from construction and dismantling is possible. Industrial processes enable primary natural raw materials to be replaced with recycled materials. Saint-Gobain exploits this potential with glass, cast iron, and plaster. 

LSand is a natural resource that is becoming scarce. By recovering the broken glass from waste, cullet is produced. This cullet can replace sand in the manufacture of glass products: flat glass for construction and automobiles, glass wool. For the casting of pipes, a secondary smelting process can be used that enables the fusion of recovered iron and cast iron. 

Collection of waste to create new materials

In many countries, Saint-Gobain offers to recover waste from its clients. This allows waste from one client to become the raw materials of another!

In 2008, the Group created the first French recycling system for plaster-based waste. Currently, the plaster recycling system is used in 18 countries and is being adapted to tackle local issues. In France, nearly 50,000 tons of plaster is collected and recycled each year through the Placorecycling© service.

In addition to closed-loop recycling, we should also mention an example of "downcycling": in South Africa, Saint-Gobain Gyproc recycles plaster waste from its plants to convert it into fertilizer. A solution that, besides dramatically reducing volumes of waste, largely benefits local agriculture and food production. "We have assessed the best ways to leverage our gypsum waste and we now have a solution that minimizes waste and turns it into a key ingredient in fertilizers," says Elsa Lazenby, Environmental, Site Risk and Systems Manager at Gyproc. 

The circular economy is dependent on the way people consume, on infrastructures, and on the industrial framework but also on the legal context and the conditions under which waste is managed. For this reason, the Group adjusts its policy on a local basis, in close touch with each territory.