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Precycling in Construction Can Save Money and the Environment

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The latest buzzword in environmental circles is “pre-cycling”—the process of reducing waste by avoiding items that will generate it in the first place or by selecting elements that will create less waste. An innovative company from South Australia has decided to apply the principle to the construction industry after identifying problems with its own waste generation.

Pre-Cycle in Adelaide started operations in 2017. While still small and in the trial stage, it is garnering industry and Government interest alike. The company removes, recycles and repurposes residential construction waste, eliminating it from home sites and passing the offcuts on to other builders who can use them.

The circular economy is generating profit for Pre-Cycle, saving builders money in waste removal fees and contributing to a more environmentally friendly construction process.

The circular economy is generating profit for Pre-Cycle, saving builders money in waste removal fees and ultimately, contributing to a more environmentally friendly construction process

“The business is still in a trial stage,” Joe Golotta, Pre-Cycle founder, told Jobsite. “We are servicing local businesses, and they are doing feasibility studies into whether they are making cost-savings. For the majority of residential builders, it all comes down to dollars.”

Golotta is far from being an environmental warrior. He runs an insulation company and started the Pre-Cycle business after one of his builder clients complained about his insulation waste filling up the bins.

“For the cost of $400 to $500 to empty a bin, it cost them a fortune because they would have to empty a bin just for my insulation,” Golotta told The Lead South Australia.

From that single conversation, the idea for Pre-Cycle was born. Golotta charges his clients a fee to remove usable excess waste from residential construction sites across the six stages of construction  and passes the waste on to other builders to re-purpose.

Typically, the construction of a single home can generate six large bins worth of waste, running up the cost of approximately $3,000. Golotta has reduced this to a single bin of non-recyclable waste, saving builders thousands of dollars in disposal fees. Reducing landfill by 30 cubic metres per build is a bonus.

“Eighty per cent of what we take from the building site doesn’t go into landfill and gets reused in some way.”

“There’s no sorting. In our system, that is not required; you’re saving a tonne on energy. As far as we are concerned, it’s green all the way around,” said Golotta. “Eighty per cent of what we take from the building site doesn’t go into landfill and gets reused in some way.”

The construction and demolition industries are the most significant waste producers in Australia, creating about a third of our total waste and contributing 7.1 megatons of landfill.

Golotta and his team are in the early stages of spinning Pre-Cycle off as its own company, separate to the insulation business. When asked whether he was prepared for the interest Pre-Cycle had generated—and its growth potential—Golotta admitted it was not something he started out thinking about “but if it grows organically, we’ll go with the flow.”

The project also attracted the interest of The South Australian Government, which studied Pre-Cycle’s model but has yet to release its findings. Golotta said Pre-Cycle has been “authenticated and authorised” and “looked at through a microscope.” So far, it has come up very well.

“With their (Government) backing, it gives us more ammunition to get out there and promote it,” he said.

The 2017 report entitled Creating Value: The Potential Benefits of Circular Economy, carried out for the South Australian Government, found that a more circular economy could create an additional 25,700 full-time equivalent jobs by 2030 when compared to a business-as-usual scenario.

According to the study, “A circular economy could also reduce South Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 27 per cent, or 7.7 million tonnes of CO2-eq, compared with business as usual in 2030. This could help South Australia make a significant contribution towards reducing future climate change.

“How? By keeping products, components and materials at their highest utility and value for the optimal duration. In practice, this means:

  • designing—or importing—‘smart’ products that last longer and can be reused many times;

  • sharing things more and making repair the norm;

  • recycling materials effectively and converting some waste materials into biofuels, and;

  • displacing fossil fuels and derived products with bio-based materials.

“Entrepreneurs and innovation in reverse logistics, services, digital technologies will be needed to facilitate these changes.”

The findings of the report would indicate that Golotta could likely be onto a winning idea. Although he’s not boasting about his fledgeling business, he was savvy enough to recognise its potential. He was reluctant to share many of the intricacies of its day-to-day processes or any images.

“It’s all very early to share these details. If we let it out there, who’s to say someone else won’t do it, so we are holding many of the operational details very close to our chest at present. I will wait and see if it all goes crazy or not.”

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