Feature Article

Circular Economy at Scale: Six International Case Studies

These teams are applying radical life-cycle thinking to entire projects—and redefining what building ownership means in the process.

October 5, 2015

We don’t normally conceive of buildings as disposable. Yet cultural and economic undercurrents make it all too easy for our buildings to become trash.

The typical service life of a commercial building in North America is less than 50 years—and many structures are lucky to hit the ripe old age of 20. Once a building ceases to function, it is extremely rare for materials to be reused or even recycled. The amount of waste from this carnage is staggering. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that annual construction and demolition (C&D) debris from buildings in the U.S. is around 136 million tons annually—amounting to about 840 pounds of waste per person per year. In the northeastern U.S. (one of the only regions for which reliable statistics are available), only about 10% of that waste is diverted from landfills.