Building material use and associated environmental impacts in China 2000-2015


A rapidly increasing use of building materials poses threats to resources and the environment. Using novel, localized life cycle inventories and building material intensity data, this study quantifies the resource use of building materials in mainland China and evaluates their embodied environmental impacts. Newly built floor area and related material consumption grew 11% per annum from 2000 to 2015, leveling off at the end of this period. Concrete, sand, gravel, brick, and cement were the main materials used. Spatially, construction activities expanded from east China into the central part of the country. Cement, steel, and concrete production are the key contributors to associated environmental impacts, e.g., cement and steel each account for around 25% of the global warming potential from building materials. Building materials contribute considerably to the impact categories of human toxicity, fossil depletion, and global warming, emphasizing that greenhouse gas emissions should not be the sole focus of research on environmental impacts of building materials. These findings quantitatively shed light on the urgent need to reduce environmental impacts and to conserve energy in the manufacturing processes of building materials on the national scale.

Environmental Science & Technology