We have all come across the infamous 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle at some point in our lives. But gone are the 3R days – we now hear about 5Rs, 6Rs, even 9Rs – all surrounding the concept of circular economy. This article explores the 9R framework for circular construction.
This 9Rs stands for Refuse, Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Refurbish, Remanufacture, Repurpose, Recycle and Recover. The meaning of these strategies might seem intuitive, obvious even, but it is essential to know what they imply and when they should be used. The following sections show how the R-framework can be implemented at different lifecycle stages of a building to prevent it from becoming a wasted resource at the end of its service life.
The 9R framework is an environmentally preferred hierarchical approach for closing material loops. The tighter the loop (lower R), the lesser external inputs are needed to close it, and the more circular the strategy. The longer the loop (higher R), the less circular it is, and the less we prefer it. Take a look at our cover image to get a better idea.
Refuse, Rethink and Reduce (R0 – R2) are the shortest loops in the R-framework. They eliminate the waste as the design stage itself through strategies like smart manufacturing, designing for disassembly, and material passports for the building products. Imagine the typical brick and mortar wall being replaced with a dry-stacked wall with interlocking bricks. It will limit the amount of mortar required and ease the deconstruction efforts at the end of service life for the subsequent use. By rethinking design choices early, the material quantity and efforts required to close the loop can be reduced, rendering it the highest degree of circularity.
Reuse, Repair, Refurbish, Remanufacture, and Repurpose (R3 – R7) are the medium loops in the R-model. These are applied to extend the lifespan of materials in a building.  Think of what might happen to the materials once the owner discards the building as waste. The doors, windows, service installations, and even furniture are flexible compared to the building structure. If dismantled carefully, they can be reused elsewhere for the same or different purposes. Although the recovered products may not be compatible with the new technology and market standards, repairing, refurbishing, or remanufacturing can elongate the material lifespan.
Recycle and Recovery (R8 – R9) are the longest loops in the R-framework. These are applied to building products labeled ‘waste’ by the industry, requiring technical equipment and energy inputs to create a new value.  Compared to other R-strategies, these do not maintain the original structure or value of the product and can be re-applied anywhere. Currently, the best practice worldwide for dealing with concrete and brick debris is to recycle it. The debris is collected, transported, manually or mechanically sorted, washed, crushed, and recycled into new building materials and products. Despite the added efforts, time, and energy input, the recycled products do not make it back at the same level in the industry. They are primarily downcycled as construction rubble for road base, kerbstone, pavement blocks, concrete bricks, and manufactured sand.
In India, Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules (2016) define construction and demolition (C&D) waste as “any waste comprising building materials, debris and rubble resulting from construction, remodeling, repair and demolition of any civil structure.” As a result, many materials are titled ‘waste’ only because they are no longer valuable to their current owner. The 9R strategy ensures that the materials, products, and buildings retain their highest value and stay relevant at the end of their service life.
Disposing of the materials in the landfill, energy recovery, and recycling are standard practices in the building sector. However, they retain the lowest value of the material. Using the right R-strategy during the conceptual and use stage of the building is essential to steer the industry to continue closing loops of value. It is important to remember that –
“Circular Economy is not about closing loops of volume, but about closing loops of value.” Neha Gupta
Kirchherr, J., D. Reike, and M. Hekkert, Conceptualizing the circular economy: An analysis of 114 definitions. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 2017. 127(January): p. 221-232.
Reike, D., W.J.V. Vermeulen, and S. Witjes, The circular economy: New or Refurbished as CE 3.0? — Exploring Controversies in the Conceptualization of the Circular Economy through a Focus on History and Resource Value Retention Options. Resources, Conservation & Recycling, 2018. 135(August): p. 246-264.
CPCB, Guidelines on Environmental Management of C&D Waste Management in India 2017.
Cover Image Building & Image Used: SAHRDC, Anagram Architects © Asim Waqif