A circular economy is an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and encouraging the continual reuse of resources.
That’s why a circular economy for the construction industry is no longer a “nice-to-have solution” but a “must-have solution.” Because as an industry, construction consumes around 40% of virgin materials. Construction also produces between 10 – 35% of the waste found at disposal sites. These numbers are no longer sustainable.
Most people are aware of waste generated by plastics, metal, wood, and concrete, but very few are aware of waste generated by excavated soils.
In Europe, soils extracted from construction sites make up five times the amount of household waste, yet construction companies and governments are still turning a blind eye to the issue.
In North America, it has been hard to pinpoint the exact number as most construction companies are very secretive about the amount of excavated material, how they transport it, and where it ends up.
For example, in Ontario, Canada, that number can range between 1.6 – 2.5 million truckloads per year, and very few know where that material ends up. With the increase in construction, that number is also rising.
Carbon emission is also an issue. Transporting excavated soils represents around 7-9% of the carbon costs of a building site. With rising land costs, trucks have to drive further, adding more to the project costs and carbon emissions.
Knowing what to do with the excavated soil can be the difference between winning a project proposal or losing to the competition.
So the BIG question is, how do we get people in a secretive industry to collaborate and share data so they can participate in a circular economy.
Mana Arabi and Hwayda Kater of Fill Connect Explain.
Circular Economy for Excavated Soils is Within Reach
The good news is that construction has a two-sided need that complements each other:
Excavation requires removing earth, rock, or other materials for building foundations, reservoirs, and roads and usually involves the following stakeholders:
- A professional excavation company that can remove dirt from one location with minimal impact on the surrounding sites.
- A testing company to determine the quality of the soil, possible contamination, or presence of harmful species.
- A trucking company that can handle the transportation of the soil
- A receiving site that receives the excavated material for proper treatment and disposal.
Fill placement is used for land reclamation, leveling, and reinforcement and usually involves the following stakeholders:
- A government department to issue a receiving site permit
- A commercial vendor to provide newly mined or recycled fill material
- A trucking company that can handle the transportation of the soil
Some savvy brokers and salespeople have figured this out. They created a business by connecting people with excess material with those who need fill material while making huge commissions on each transaction.
Construction companies with big pockets can afford to pay and get someone else to handle this problem for them. They can also afford to pay for enterprise-level software to manage their projects, budgets and track their resources.
But construction companies with 99+ employees only make up a tiny percentage of the market. In Canada, Over 98% of construction companies fall under the micro (1 – 4 employees) or small (5 – 99 employees) business category.
Until recently, there was no easy way for the big and small players to collaborate. Using a dirt exchange system like Fill Connect, they now can.
A soil exchange system can have a more significant impact and improve collaboration and recycling with multiple stakeholders. To improve collaboration, we need to understand the needs of each stakeholder, what’s in it for them and what can hold them back. Some of the key stakeholders include:
Circular Economy Solution for Excavation Companies
Excavation companies need to test and relocate excavated material to new permitted locations. As land prices go up, dumpsites are getting further. Further distances translate to increased trucking costs and more carbon emissions.
A dirt exchange system can help excavation companies find alternative locations for their excavated material. Instead of relying exclusively on commercial dumpsites or disposal at sea, they can find and collaborate with a nearby project site that needs fill material for land reclamation, reinforcement, or leveling.
Circular Economy Solution for Dredging Companies
Dredging is a common practice in cities or towns with dynamic shorelines. Waterways are regularly dredged to keep these channels open and safe for commercial, industrial, and recreational marine activities. Dredging is also used for large-scale marine construction projects, harbor expansion, infrastructure development, and offshore oil and gas activities.
All that dredged material has to go somewhere. Instead of collaborating with project sites that need fill, many of the dredged material ends up dumped at sea but in a different location.
Collaboration on a dirt exchange system can save time and money in locating a new home for the dredged material. It can also reduce the reliance on newly mined material at other project sites.
Circular Economy Solution for Commercial Dumpsites
Commercial dumpsites are land locations with government permits allowing them to accept excavated material.
They usually make money by charging a fee per truckload of material dumped on their site. When the commercial dumpsite reaches full capacity, it can no longer accept new material leaving construction project managers scrambling to find a new location.
Collaboration on a dirt exchange system can help identify nearby locations instead of trucking material to distant dumpsites. It can also facilitate the reuse of clean fill material that might otherwise end up in the dump.
A dirt exchange system can also help commercial dumpsites that have the capability to make more money by turning their facility into a transfer station where clean material can be relocated until someone who needs fill gets it.
A dirt exchange system can help commercial dumpsites profit from a circular economy while helping their clients lower their carbon footprint.
Circular Economy Solution for Contaminated Soil Facilities
Contaminated soil facilities are government-assigned locations where contaminated soil can be disposed of appropriately. They have a limited capacity which means that once the site is full, it can be closed, making it hard for the industry to find them during a time of need. Listing contaminated soil facilities on a dirt exchange system can improve collaboration and help construction sites identify nearby locations instead of trucking material to distant dumpsites.
Circular Economy Solution for Developers
Developers usually work on multiple construction projects at a time. They might have a project with excess excavated material while at the same time be working on other projects that need fill material. Since most projects are confidential and usually have a different project manager, developers miss out on a dirt exchange system. They end up spending more time and money paying to remove excavated material, buy newly mined material, and transportation.
A dirt exchange system can give developers real-time insights into nearby project sites to get better price estimates and find alternative solutions. It can also help them collaborate internally and externally with nearby locations, helping them save time and money on material and transpiration costs.
Circular Economy Solution for General Contractors
General contractors can be individuals or companies hired by the developer to manage a construction project. In some cases, they might handle the excavation process and deal with fill material on behalf of the developer or work with brokers, excavation companies, or third-party vendors.
Regardless of their choice, general contractors still need price and material transparency to bid on projects. A dirt exchange system can help general contractors stay more competitive by finding nearby cost-effective and sustainable options.
Circular Economy Solution for Home Owners / Home Builders
Custom-built homes are still in high demand despite the rising costs of land and building material. Even a tiny house build will require excavation or fill placement to reinforce or level the property site.
Smaller projects usually rely on their contractor to find a dumpsite for excess material or a sand and gravel supplier to purchase new materials. Most contractors will usually suggest an affiliated vendor, dumpsite, or trucking company because they might not be aware of any other option. Their affiliated vendors might not have the best price for the homeowner.
A dirt exchange system can help homeowners and home builders find nearby sites that have what they need. They can save a lot of time and money by collaborating with nearby locations instead of relying exclusively on their contractors or trucking companies.
Circular Economy Solution for Trucking Companies
Trucking companies usually work with brokers, developers, or general contractors to move dirt. In some cases, the trucking company might also broker and help smaller projects and homeowners find dumpsites for their excavated material.
While trucking companies can make more money by extending their hauling distance, they still need to stay competitive. They need to offer their clients better price options and help them lower their carbon footprint.
A dirt exchange system can give trucking companies more insights and help them find alternative dumpsites and fill material options.
They can also profit by hauling material to a project site willing to pay for it instead of taking it to a dumpsite that bills by the truckload.
Circular Economy Solution for Sand and Gravel Suppliers
Sand and gravel represent the highest volume of raw material used on earth after water. Their use greatly exceeds natural renewal rates.
Most sand from deserts cannot be used for concrete and land reclaiming, as the wind erosion process forms round grains that do not bind well.
That’s why construction sites have until recently relied on sand extracted in land quarries and riverbeds. However, a shift to marine and coastal aggregates mining has occurred due to the decline of inland resources. River and marine aggregates remain the primary sources for building and land reclamation.
For concrete, in-stream gravel requires less processing and produces high-quality material. However, marine aggregate needs to be washed thoroughly to remove the salt. Structures built with unwashed salt might collapse after a few decades due to corrosion of their metal structures.
A dirt exchange system can help suppliers identify waste materials that can be recycled, participate, and profit from a circular economy while reducing their environmental impact.
Circular Economy Solution for Landscape Companies
Landscape companies usually face the opposite problem from excavators. They may occasionally excavate, but in most cases, they will require fill material like rocks, gravel, and topsoil to build retaining walls or level a site for other applications in most cases.
A dirt exchange system can help them find nearby project sites with excess fill material that they can use for layering and reduce their reliance on new material.
Circular Economy Solution for Farmers and Landowners
Construction contractors sometimes pay landowners to dump excess dirt on private property or farmland to avoid higher fees at legal dumps. Landowners can make a lot of money by accepting this material. “In most cases, it’s more financially feasible to farm fill than to farm vegetables,” says Agriculture Minister Lana Popham.
Landowners who wish to profit from the dirt industry are not aware of the consequences. Just because they own a piece of land does not mean that you can build or dump anything they want on it. They need to have permits and ensure the material is tested and free of contaminants before allowing anyone to leave it on their grounds.
“We haven’t really figured out a strategy for what to do with [the material], but we’re going to have to.” - Lana Popham
With Fill Connect, landowners can have more transparency and only accept tested dirt and fill material. They can also upload PDF copies of their permits to show nearby construction sites that they can receive fill material on their land.
Circular Economy Solution for Cities and Municipalities
Cities and municipalities rely on commercial developers to handle most of their construction and urban development needs. While they might not handle the excavation and fill placement details, they need more transparency to ensure efficient tax dollar usage. They also need to provide guidelines and take the lead on waste reduction, recycling, land preservation, and climate change initiatives.
Permits and “Soil Watch” warning signs can help bring awareness, but they don’t solve the problem of excess waste or decreasing the number of permitted disposal sites or disposal at sea.
A dirt exchange system can give cities and municipalities more insights and help them set the example by listing their project sites so nearby locations can find them. They can double-check price quotes by actively participating and ensuring developers are using sustainable and cost-effective solutions.
What Is Slowing The Migration To a Circular Economy
The benefits of a circular economy for excavated soil clear. However, there are some holdbacks. Some of the holdbacks include:
Project Timing: An exchange system can only work if both parties can swap at the same time. Until recently, most parties relied on phone calls and emails with their limited pool of contacts. With a dirt exchange system, they can now widen their contact base and collaborate with new stakeholders.
Volume: The volume of fill material might not be a match. This means that the party dealing with a larger volume will have to collaborate with multiple stakeholders. Project sites can now collaborate with numerous locations and solve the volume dilemma using a dirt exchange system.
Liability: Excavated material needs to be tested to determine the quality and identify a new home leading some to hold back. However, with new legal and environmental regulations, it is becoming easier to view environmental assessment reports and make a transparent exchange. Using a dirt exchange system that encourages testing and permits can help all parties limit their liabilities when dealing with new locations.
Profit Strategy: Some vendors, suppliers, and brokers are holding back in fear that their profit margins are on the line. They feel that a dirt exchange system can take a chunk out of their profits and would rather that their clients don’t know about it. However, this is a prime opportunity for those who have the foresight to make the switch. Savvy vendors, suppliers, and brokers can take advantage of a dirt exchange system to widen their reach and build stronger relationships with their clients by providing them with more options.
Business Relationships: There are long-standing industry relationships, and some vendors will recommend an affiliated partner, even if that partner does not have the best price or environmental solution. However, savvy businesses know that you can build stronger relationships by providing your clients with better deals. A dirt exchange system can help companies to build stronger relationships.
Profitable Circular Economy Solutions
By examining all the possible collaborators, it has become clear that there is a need for a dirt exchange system.
A dirt exchange system can help all stakeholders save time and save money while protecting the environment.
While there might seem to be some holdbacks, savvy and enterprising entrepreneurs will know how to profit from a circular economy.
They know that by helping their clients and prioritizing the environment, they can build stronger relationships and make more money.
We invite you to join us and be part of the solution.