Towards sustainable European construction through recycled gypsum

The 2013 edition of the annual European Parliament Gypsum Forum, which took place at the European Parliament in Brussels on 16 October, was a great opportunity to present the aims and some of the initial findings of the LIFE Environment project GtoG (LIFE11 ENV/BE/001039), which is being led by Eurogypsum, the European federation of national associations of producers of gypsum products.

The Forum aims to foster dialogue between a wide range of stakeholders in order to promote sustainable construction in Europe. The gypsum industry is responsible for 1% of all construction and demolition waste (CDW), and the GtoG project (“From Production to Recycling, a Circular Economy for the European Gypsum Industry with the Demolition and Recycling Industry”) is aiming to transform the gypsum demolition waste market. The goal is to achieve higher recycling rates of gypsum waste as a significant move towards a resource-efficient economy.

The theme of this year’s Gypsum Forum was ‘Megatrends in Construction: the three R’s-Renovation-Resource Efficiency-Recycling’. MEP Jean-Paul Gauzès, the President of the European Parliament Gypsum Forum gave a welcome in which he emphasised the need to strengthen the shift towards sustainable construction.

Though gypsum products are indefinitely and fully recyclable, only a small percentage is recycled in Europe. Buildings are currently demolished and not dismantled, hampering the recovery of gypsum waste. However, the EU has set ambitious target of 70% for the recycling of CDW and green public procurement. Moreover, stricter criteria for the landfilling of gypsum are in place. The LIFE project will demonstrate the economic feasibility of dismantling buildings in a way that boosts the recycling of gypsum waste.

Mr Gauzès’s address was followed by presentations by Carlo Pettinelli, DG Enterprise, Director for Sustainable Growth and EU 2020 on ‘Construction for Growth’; Paul Rübig MEP on ‘Raw Materials in Construction’ and Heide Rühle MEP on ‘Enhancing Green Public Procurement’.

At the Forum, Jean-Yves Burgy, managing director, Recovering SARL, a partner in the LIFE project, told delegates that a market survey on deconstruction practices and on gypsum recycling status covering eight EU countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Poland, Spain, The Netherlands and the UK) has already been carried out by the GtoG team. The results show that across Europe recycling is more favourable than landfill.

In his presentation he said that “dismantling practices exist but are not widespread in Europe, and that EU regulations are not implemented in a harmonised manner that takes into account local specificities and interests”. “We are far from the 70% recovery target of the Waste Framework for gypsum-based waste,” he added. Nevertheless, recycling remains the best way to reach this objective.

Speakers on renovation and resource efficiency included Prof Gerd Simsch, Managing Director Bauperformance GmbH. Prof Karsten Tichelmann, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Fachbereich Architektur, and Thierry Roche, an architect with Cité de l’environnement.José Blanco, Secretary General of the European Demolition Association, spoke about recycling, while William Neale, Member of Cabinet, Commissioner Potocnik, Commissioner for the Environment, gave a presentation on sustainable buildings.
Gypsum is widely used in construction in the EU. More than 1 600 million m2/yr of European interior surfaces are covered with plasterboard; more than 5 million tonnes/y of plaster are used in Europe for interior lining; and more than 20 million m2/yr of European interior walls are separated using plaster blocks. Some 100 000 people in the EU are (directly or indirectly) dependent for employment on the gypsum and anhydrite industry.