Contact Us

Urban Mining Could Be A £20B A Year Business In The UK: What Property Needs To Know


Urban mining — the hunt for metals in existing city buildings — sounds like a dystopian fantasy. But it is beginning to happen in London, and could soon become mainstream in the property industry.

London-based Fabrix has become the first UK developer to buy steel mined from a City of London building with the intention of reusing it in construction.

The move opens the door to much wider use of urban mining in the property business.

Today barely a handful of construction projects employ reused steel. The developer said the move paves the way for mass reusage of steel — which will make a huge impact on the carbon footprint of construction.

Fabrix hopes that an open market will develop so that developers sell and buy used steel to put into new buildings “like the eBay of metals”, a statement said.

The move comes as the government takes the first steps toward massive expansion of urban mining capacity. A four-year project funded by the UK government is exploring how to ensure the UK fully recirculates its steel and aluminium, meaning no new raw materials need to be mined, and no new waste is created.

The CircularMetals project aims to make the UK the first country in the world to realise full metal circulation. 

The organisation estimated it could lead to a secondary metals industry focused on reuse, recycling and remanufacturing worth £20B a year by 2030.

Urban mining could add as much as £100B to the UK economy over the next 10 years, increasing metals industry GVA by 50% to £16B by 2030, and recycling the 8 megatonnes of steel scrap and 0.5 megatonnes of aluminium scrap that is exported from the UK each year.

55 Great Suffolk Street, Southwark

Fabrix has purchased 139 tonnes of steel from a building that was being demolished at Broadgate in the City of London. The developer is mulling plans to use the steel on its refurbishment of 55 Great Suffolk Street, Southwark, and its reimagining of the former Blackfriars Crown Court as the Roots in the Sky workspace.

Fabrix has been advised on the reuse by consultants AKT II, Gardiner & Theobald, Sheppard Robson, Atelier Ten and Quantem. AKT II has reviewed the British Constructional Steelwork Association Model Specification based on this experience. Demolition contractor Cantillon is supplying the steel, and Cleveland Steel is carrying out nondestructive testing to determine material grade before the metal can be adapted for incorporation into Fabrix’s projects.

The British Constructional Steelwork Association is now drafting a Model Specification for the purchase of reused steel, which will provide the first industry guidance for how steel can be bought for reuse.

The metals initiative is supported by similar projects to create circular construction economies in chemicals, textiles and minerals.

The UK economy consumes over 1 billion tonnes of materials every year, or around 17 tonnes per person, contributing to carbon emissions, waste and environmental damage.