Memorias de investigación
Gypsum Waste Management in the European Union: Towards a Circular Economy for the Construction Sector

Research Areas
  • Environmental research,
  • Waste management,
  • Construction,
  • Architecture,
  • Construction of engineering

The role of waste management in the circular economy has recently been highlighted by the European Commission, particularly in the Communication COM/2015/0614 ?Closing the loop ? An EU action plan for the Circular Economy?. Gypsum products are well suited for contributing to this challenge, because the raw material calcium sulphate dihydrate can repeatedly change its properties through a reversible hydration reaction. Moreover, the waste hierarchy is applied when these are recycled instead of landfilled, which contributes to the European 2020 target of 70% recovery by weight of construction and demolition waste, as defined in the Directive 2008/98/EC on Waste. Three main undesirable effects are produced when gypsum is not managed appropriately, mainly due to its non-inert nature and its high sulphate content. On the one hand, gypsum contaminates concrete waste for recycling when treated as mixed waste. On the other hand, the disposal of gypsum waste at landfills poses a risk of higher landfill emissions. Overall, potential secondary resources are lost (i.e. recycled gypsum). The main objective of the thesis is to broaden the knowledge on the management of gypsum products in the European Union, with the ultimate aim to move towards higher recovery rates and a closed-loop supply chain. This is intended to foster the transition to a circular economy and contribute to meet the European 2020 targets. The method includes the study of the literature, the development of a life cycle model and the design and analysis of questionnaires addressed to stakeholders. The investigation is partly based on the European Life+ Gypsum to Gypsum (GtoG) project ?From production to recycling: a circular economy for the European gypsum Industry with the demolition and recycling Industry?, supported by the European Commission through the Life+ programme (LIFE11 ENV/BE/001039). On this basis, the investigation is tackled on two fronts: at macro and micro-levels. At macro-level, the results show how gypsum waste is managed in different European countries and the crucial factors that affect its destination. Additionally, the life cycle model of gypsum mass flows enables the estimation of primary energy use and greenhouse gases emissions in different recycling scenarios. Results reveal that such emissions are lower as recycling increases, largely driven by the degradation of plasterboard lining paper in landfill. At micro-level, the ideal conditions to produce quality recycled gypsum from end-of-life gypsum are formulated. Moreover, the physical and mechanical characterization of recycled gypsum and plasterboard with recycled content are examined. The identification of best practices for the management of end-of-life gypsum complements this part, being three practices proposed as fundamental to promote a circular economy for gypsum products. This study thus provides a comprehensive approach on measures to transform the management of gypsum waste in countries where gypsum is currently landfilled. Overall, the study addresses six specific objectives, which are formulated as follows: (1) Document the current situation on the recycled gypsum market, (2) Evaluate the impact of different levels of gypsum recycling and landfilling, (3) Analyse the factors influencing gypsum recycling, (4) Analyse the characterization of gypsum feedstock and gypsum products with recycled gypsum, (5) Identify the ideal conditions to produce recycled gypsum from end-of-life gypsum (6) Analyse practices for the management of end-of-life gypsum in a circular economy. The overall conclusion is that closed-loop gypsum recycling rates are influenced by factors (at a regional, national and EU level) and adopted practices by agents (in each deconstruction-recycling value chain). The lessons learned from current gypsum recycling countries have the potential to enable a circular economy in the rest of the European countries.
Mark Rating
Sobresaliente cum laude

Research Group, Departaments and Institutes related
  • Creador: Grupo de Investigación: Sostenibilidad en la Construcción y en la Industria
  • Departamento: Ingeniería Agroforestal