Zinc, a significant contributor to the circular economy


Zinc, a significant contributor to the circular economy

The principle of the circular economy can sometimes lead to a dead end: should we favour a material with a high content of recycled matter or a material with a high level of end of life recycling? This recurring question has too often led to an over-valuation of the first option to the detriment of the second.

The concept of permanent material

After two decades where sustainable development practices have been progressively incorporated into the building sector, it seems that the concepts of recycled content and recyclable content should be considered in a complementary manner and can be further complemented by the notion of permanent material. By permanent, we mean the capacity of a material to retain its intrinsic properties down through its recycling and various uses.

Cécile Roland, Environmental Applications Manager with VMZINC, explains.

“The circular economy designates an economic concept that is part of sustainable development. Its objective is to produce goods and services while minimizing consumption and waste of raw materials, water and energy sources. This new type of economy is based on the 3 Rs principle - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – as opposed to the linear economy based on Extract, Manufacture, Consume, Throw away – which today is practised all over the world. It aims to meet the challenge of more effective use of non renewable natural resources. It consists of developing eco-design of products, promoting product sustainability, reuse, repair and/or services rather than ownership, promoting products with a high content of recycled materials, improving waste recycling, etc.

Certain materials have the potential to retain their intrinsic characteristics down through their various uses and recycling.

The building sector uses rolled zinc, which is 98% recycled in France and over 95% recycled in Western Europe! Recovery and recycling of used zinc benefits from a structured, efficient organisation making it possible to attain the highest rates of recycling in the building sector.

Used rolled zinc that is recovered during renovations or demolition has exactly the same composition as when it was installed. So it remains highly pure and has a high market value at a lower price than primary zinc quoted on the London Metal Exchange.
Because of this, for several decades, used rolled zinc is a highly popular material in sectors using secondary zinc such as steel galvanising, production of brass and zinc oxide used in paints, tyres, in the pharmaceuticals sector... A large part of zinc production is also used in agricultural fertilizers.

In an open loop system, zinc can be used permanently, in perfect keeping with the virtuous principle of the 3 Rs, upon which the circular economy is based.”

In the run-up to COP 21 (Climate Conference), which will take place in Paris-Le Bourget from 30 November to 11 December 2015, this column will discuss other crucial subjects for the building sector with regards to environmental improvement and optimisation.

Your comments are always welcome!

Roger Baltus
Engineer - Architect
VMZINC Communication Director

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