Debbie Ward, (AIEMA), Consultant for Cirklo Consult Ltd shares her expertise around the development success of the Rebuild Site in Carlisle, a circular economy initiative to drive construction waste up into the surplus rung of the waste hierarchy and help decarbonise the sector.


The property & construction sector, as all sectors, must rise to the climate crisis and decarbonisation challenge. Transformational change is needed both for the industry to become low carbon in its operations and also to deliver a low carbon built environment. For the construction industry to achieve this and play its part in reaching the UK’s 2050 net zero target, there needs to be a combination of cultural and technological changes in tandem with a shift to a circular economy.

Circularity is not new, or necessarily complex, but it requires a big change in mindset and behaviour. Creating a more environmentally sustainable, circular and fair future requires changes in the way we do things, as individuals, communities and businesses. We need to reprogramme our decision making and take the full life cycle into consideration from design to disposal/deconstruction.

The theory and practice behind circularity has inspired the creation of many new businesses, for The Rebuild Site our motivation was to help change mindsets and reduce waste in the construction industry. The start of our story was two of the directors meeting at a Circular Economy conference about four years ago. Fast forward to 2021, when the two founding directors decided there was too much talk about waste in the construction industry and not enough action, and The Rebuild Site was born.

The Rebuild Site's mission is to be a catalyst for the adoption of circular economy practices in the construction industry, changing resource-wasting ‘business as usual’ systems through demonstrating, doing and data. It has been set up with circular economy principles at its heart, taking surplus materials from construction sites and putting them to good use. The company’s purpose is to encourage everyone to rethink how to better use materials, reclaim materials that are currently being thrown away or down cycled, and reuse as much excess and ‘nearly-new’ materials as possible, creating value in what is often treated as waste. There is no such thing as waste – it’s just a resource in the wrong place.

The construction, demolition and excavation sector produces 140m tonnes of waste annually, which is 60% of total UK waste. This also equate to £6bn of lost value from £100bn annual industry turnover. By encouraging the reuse of existing surplus materials we are playing our part to reduce ‘waste’ and lower the amount of carbon used in creating new materials. We offer a commercial collection service to construction sites, materials are taken back to our depot where they are then sold on to trades and members of the public at reduced prices. We also donate materials to community groups and charities to help with their building, gardening, crafting and repair projects.

Whilst initially our focus is on keeping the value in materials, saving them from the skip and redirecting them to be reused in projects, we are aware that this is only helping to solve the tail end of the problem, it is not fixing the cause. Fundamentally we need to design out waste wherever possible, in product design, service design and process design, whilst ensuring value is maintained in materials to the highest possible level for as long as possible . A key objective, as part of building relationships with contractors and sites to take their excess materials, is also to raise awareness and educate the construction sector about the circular economy and with it the alternative models and materials available. Additionally, with the work we are doing within communities we also have a great opportunity to reach out to a broader audience and introduce circular thinking and practices beyond the construction sector.

The Rebuild Site has not been established to run one depot in Carlisle, we aspire to create a national reuse network. We are here put theory into practice, to find the biggest sticking points and the most effective levers by doing, and learn and share as we go. We want to drive real change and enable surplus materials to always be reused. Once we have got a proven process in place and working for surplus, we will move on to deconstructed, reclaimed and repurposed materials

The supply chain (designers, architects, specifiers, QSs, contractors) needs to have the reuse of materials more de-risked than the systems currently in place can offer. Technology such as Materials Passports and Digital Twins will facilitate scaling up of commercial level reuse but the infrastructure for reuse to happen at scale – such as physical secondary materials hubs – is not yet in place.

The Rebuild Site is a part of that infrastructure solution. In an increasingly digital world we still need spaces and places for consolidation, storage and quality assessment, and the ability to view items before purchase if desired. A national network of online and physical secondary materials hubs would facilitate the supply of a larger volume of materials and provide more confidence to specify secondary materials as the first option, creating more demand. If the right ‘building blocks’ for reuse can be put in place, more ambitious briefs become a more realistic option - for example designing and specifying a group of new schools to be built with predominantly existing/secondary materials.

The Rebuild Site has had a lot of local interest in and around Carlisle where our first depot is based. Through collaboration and partnership with other organisations we plan to broaden our offer at the depot to include not only the purchase of materials for building projects (be it for a new extension or a new bird box!), but also repair workshops, tool hire, creative project sessions and other complementary circular activities and initiatives.

You can find out more at www.rebuildsite.co.uk and for general enquiries please contact [email protected].

Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the contributing individual, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated.

Photo of Deb Ward
Debbie Ward AIEMA

Debbie is a Director of CirkloConsult, delivering circular economy-related training, education and advisory services. In addition to Cirklo project work and involvement with a number of circular economy working groups, Debbie also works part-time with EnTRESS at the University of Wolverhampton supporting SMEs to adopt sustainable, circular strategies, and am a Director of The Rebuild Site.