The building industry produces the biggest waste stream in Europe

The building industry generates a significant part of world’s total carbon emissions and the biggest waste stream in Europe. While the growth of building emissions and waste is difficult to keep in control, the recycling in the industry remains ineffective. Luckily, a growing number of industry professionals are committed to make a change towards more sustainable building.

According to European Commission, building and demolition waste comprises one third of total waste and generates the biggest waste stream in the European Union. Nevertheless, when it comes down to the discussion on sustainable development, the building industry has gotten off fairly light compared to many other industries.

“People are very concerned about the amount of plastic waste. Every year, 8 million tonnes of plastic end up to oceans. The awareness of the problem is increasing and luckily there are initiatives whose aim is to solve this issue”, says Thomas Noreila, founder of Trä Group.

“Similar attention should be now given to the building industry. The amount of building waste ending up to landfills in Europe is remarkably bigger than the amount of plastic in the oceans”, Noreila continues.

According to WWF, there is currently 150 million tonnes of plastic in oceans. In comparison, only in Europe, the construction industry generates more than 450 million tonnes of building and demolition waste each year – and only one third of this is recycled.

Carbon emissions nearly three times higher than in air transport

Additionally, the carbon emissions of the building industry are alarming. Processes and materials used during the building life cycle cover 11 percent of total world emissions. The number does not include any operational emissions such as the energy needed for heating and lighting.

“At the moment, for instance, air transport is criticised for its unsustainability. Carbon emissions generated by air transport comprise around 2 to 4 percent of the total and there is continuous development to create solutions to push the number down. The building industry has not drawn equal attention even though its emissions are even 11 percent”, Noreila opens up the situation.

When operative costs are added to the material and process emissions, the total amount of building industry emissions increase to 39 percent.

HEAL was created by Stora Enso and Trä Group to create solutions to tackle the challenges in building productivity and high carbon emissions. Our goal at HEAL is to contribute to a healthier and more sustainable future by creating transparent ways of working, innovating new digital solutions and enabling seamless collaboration between the building industry professionals.

The article is based on article “Rakennusalalla toivotaan muutosta päästö- ja jätemäärän pienentämiseksi [Building industry awaits a change to minimise waste and emissions]” by Trä Kronor.


Cembureau, Sustainable construction, Construction & demolition waste
European Commission, Construction and demolition waste management protocol, 2016
European Commission, Reducing emission from aviation
UN Environment, Beat plastic pollution
UN Environment, Global status report, 2017
World Green Building Council, New report: the building and construction sector can reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, 2019

WWF, Out of the plastic trap: Saving the Mediterranean from plastic pollution, 2018