Cities should no longer grow in the area ‘- klimareporter °

Lots of corruption, little sustainability – there’s not much to be proud of in the construction industry. (Photo: Joffi / Pixabay)

In architecture and the construction sector there is more and more talk of “circular construction”. The word circular refers to a circle, as does recycling in English. It is a material cycle. The material must be reused, if possible even several times, so that the raw materials become waste as late as possible.

Günther Bachmann begins the interview even before the first question. He points to the new Ingenieerbaukunst yearbook, for which he contributed the preface: “This book is about bridges, roads and towers. You don’t actually have this special branch of architects and construction engineers in mind when you start recycling ideas in construction. You tend to think of residential buildings and offices. These people build bridges and roads, but they also invented the argument. “

This shows that circular construction is having a broad impact in the industry. Overall, however, the construction sector lags far behind in terms of sustainability. Recycling only became a major topic very late.

climate reporter °: Mr. Bachmann, how many times have you been involved in recycling in construction in your professional career?

Gunther Bachmann: At the Federal Environment Agency, I was commissioned to draft the law on soil protection. This has a lot to do with construction, because it makes sense to ask: where should the building actually take place? Follows: How do you use existing buildings to avoid building on green areas? So this was already part of soil protection in the 1990s.

In West Germany there had already been the problem of people living in contaminated sites, for example because a former ammunition factory had been built on the site. There are hundreds of examples where people got sick. Then there were cases like this from the GDR, gigantic contamination everywhere. The Federal Soil Protection Act was therefore created in 1999.

We therefore thought beyond the law, studied recycling and drafted a regulation for the reuse of building materials. At the time, we were already assessing which quality requirements and limit values ​​are actually needed for the disposal of harmful building materials. It then took 20 years before the ordinance regulating the reuse of construction waste was approved.

Where has it been delayed for so long?

In a broad sense in politics, from the federal to the local level. Some didn’t want to, some didn’t. For example, Bavaria still has enough landfills where the excavated soil can be disposed of. Most other federal states want to recycle it, they are for strict limit values.

Decades ago, things were already planned. What happened to it?

Background also includes: CDU environment minister at the time, Klaus Töpfer, had the circular economy law developed and passed. It came into effect in 1996. The idea was for the state to prescribe limit values ​​for various sectors by regulatory law. This forces entry into the circular economy.

Due to the prescribed recycling rate for aluminum, a can depot was introduced years later. The collection of plastic in the yellow bag is also based on the law. At the time, the subject of construction rubble was only dealt with in general. There was no special regulation. You should have done it, but it didn’t happen for a long time.

So the law was pending on that point?

Exactly. For the same reason, we still have very little recycling of plastic waste. We are good with batteries, aluminum, steel and paper, for example, because it goes right back into the cycle, so to speak. But that’s what the industry wants, it’s just pure money for them. That works.

Where things don’t work out because it’s not pure money, there are no government regulations. We had a strong lead in the 90s, but it wasn’t followed up, so today we’re pretty much still struggling with small and small rum. Every federal government has tried, but failed due to some arguments. That’s why we haven’t gone very far with recycling in the construction industry.

Architect and professor Anja Rosen of the University of Wuppertal says that the circular economy law is not respected here at all. When a house is demolished, the rubble must actually be separated but this is not normally done and hardly controlled.

Yes, we only do what is cheap. For example, take the steel out of the armature. If the other building materials are gathered in a large pile and then taken away, no one separates them later. Lower waste authorities should actually check this.

What would you do if you passed a demolition site where you saw unseparated rubble? Who would you contact to take action?

The waste authority of the municipality or district. They have to implement the law.

And what would happen then?

They could then tell me that they have already set a condition for the construction site and will now carry out an inspection after I have informed them. Or they say: we didn’t even know that something was going to be demolished, the building authorities didn’t tell us. At worst, I’m told: you’re annoying.

The Federal Ministry of the Environment states that there are no implementing regulations for the Circular Economy Act. Why do you see it differently?

Of course, there are many regulations and interpretations of the law. But the crowd doesn’t. The federal government’s coalition agreement confirms this thesis. Circulation-friendly packaging or at least resource saving and the use of recycled materials are not yet in demand and not sufficiently promoted. The construction sector needs recycling certificates, for example a quota for concrete with 45% recycled content.

Gunther Bachmann

was general secretary of the German government’s Council for Sustainable Development from 2001 to 2020. Previously, the landscape architect, who has a doctorate, worked for nearly 20 years at the Federal Environment Agency, where he was previously involved in money laundering issues in the construction sector. He is now retired but continues to work as a consultant and publicist. Bachmann is also president of the jury of the German Foundation of the Sustainability Award.

In addition, life cycle costs of materials should be calculated and this requires government guidelines. Otherwise, the legal requirements for waste management will remain bogus. In my opinion, the state should set minimum quotas for products or components for the use of recycled materials as part of a reform of the circular economy law.

As I said: it worked with can deposit. In my work as Secretary General for the Sustainability Council, it has also regularly bothered me that such important innovation issues are always left open. There is always a new climate target. But concrete steps like this are what you need to do to reduce the carbon footprint of construction.

At EU level, there is a construction products regulation, a waste framework directive and other laws. Doesn’t it come from powerful specs?

In principle, we always rely on EU law and hope that something will come from there that we cannot do at home. But so far there has been too little for the construction sector.

In essence, the Construction Products Regulation regulates the protection of health in buildings, i.e. the use of toxic substances in components. Recycling issues are not included correctly.

Now the question is: what about the European Commission’s Green Deal? The “Fit for 55” climate protection program includes building materials regulations. It is about the reusability of all components and even a positive CO2-Balance through construction with wood. But the whole Green Deal still lacks funding and coordination with other European institutions.

You are the president of the jury of the German Sustainability Award. It is also about architecture. What kind of construction projects do you see there?

During the economic crisis of 2007/2008, we of the Federal Government’s Sustainability Council reflected: what can be done to promote the private commitment, both of companies and initiatives, to sustainability? This is how the German Sustainability Award was born. It is about cultural recognition. The price is privately financed, we have found partners for this.

It has now been awarded 14 times, including ten times for architecture. The partners are the German Council for Sustainable Construction, the Federal Chamber of Architects and the BDA, the Association of German Architects. These are individual construction projects submitted by the builders. There are regularly wooden constructions – including in construction, by the way -, recyclable constructions and reuse of the building fabric.

In recent years, the BDA has published summary papers for more sustainable construction. Is a new critical discourse emerging in the sector?

I see it in several areas. Young people in particular, that is, those between 30 and 45 years old, want to promote sustainability not only in their private life, but also in their professional life. This changes companies.

In addition to this pressure from within, there is also enormous pressure from investors – positive pressure. In the past, everyone rejected it and said: it’s just a gimmick, it’s crazy and it’s a niche. Today it is mainstream as far as investors are concerned. If you want to sell a building, you need to be able to demonstrate its sustainability.

In your preface to the Recycling Atlas, you write that cities around the world are taking an “imperial approach” to the building materials they use. What do you mean by this?

For the construction of buildings in Singapore, sand is unearthed all over the world, on beaches that Singaporeans do not own. The same goes for buildings in Dubai in the desert, because desert sand is not suitable for building construction. These are imperial behaviors that favor one’s own well-being at the expense of the global common good.

And we’re not entirely exempt from this, as we have so far given relatively little value to the surrounding areas when it comes to urban growth. It was simply built. Since cities around the world have logically sprung up where there was fertile soil, they also grow on fertile soil.

In doing so, they are shifting agriculture to increasingly poorer soils. This is a worldwide phenomenon. Spending on agriculture is on the rise, for example more fertilization. Urban growth thus makes it more difficult to feed the world.

Some cities have recognized the problem, for example there is the initiative of the 40 largest cities in the world for greater climate protection. However, they should go beyond the climate emergency declaration and intrude on how things are built.

And prevent growth? Do you want no city to grow anymore?

Yes, at least not in the area. They can grow taller and the population can grow through urban densification, which means that the quality of life must also be increased through more green spaces. I see the future of the city greener than concrete gray.

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