A material passport is a document consisting of all the materials that are included in a product or construction. It consist of a set of data describing defined characteristics of materials in products, which give them value for recovery, recycling and re-use.
The core idea behind the concept is that a material passport will contribute to a more "circular economy", in which materials are being recovered, recycled and/or re-used in an open traded material market. The concept of the 'material passport’ is currently being developed by multiple parties in mainly European countries. A possible second-hand material market or material-bank could become a reality in the future.
Similar concepts are being developed by several parties. Other names for the material passport are:
"According to United Nations estimates, construction accounts for some 50 percent of raw material consumption in Europe and 60 percent of waste"
Assuming that the earth is a closed system, this situation is objectively untenable. There is an urgent need to go about raw materials in a more intelligent way. A shift in the building sector would greatly benefit a situation towards needing less material, and using material more effectively, e.g. by ensuring a much longer and more useful life cycle. Proponents of the material passport argue that it is a step towards this direction.
The material passport gives material an identity. By acknowledging that it exists, in a given form in a specific building, it ensures that material receives and keeps a value, e.g. through a possible re-use after the deconstruction of for example a building.
Like a personal passport, the material passport allows the material to ‘travel’, or identifies the most useful future destination after it has served in a building. This could be in another building or in another product altogether.
By recognizing the individual materials in buildings, new ownership structures could be facilitated, that would enable more functions to be offered as a service. As we now can have lighting as a service, we could have other functions, such as "shelter from elements" as a service, instead of owning a roof.
In general, material passports create incentives for suppliers to produce and developers / managers / renovators to choose healthy, sustainable and circular materials/building products. They fit into a broader and growing movement that aims at developing circular building business models.
The material passport can be applied to every product or construction. There are different levels in which a product/construct can be discomposed:
For a building, a material passport could be a complete description of all products (staircase, window, furnace, …), components (iron beam, glass panel, …), and raw materials (wood, steel, …),that are present in the building. Ideally, this database is created during construction and subsequently continuously kept up to date. In case an existing building does not yet have a material passport, it can be created through various methods (e.g. plan analysis, digital 3D scanning).
A material passport allows the owner of a product/construct to know exactly what it is made of. This is of importance at the end of its useful life, to enable the most effective re-use of the materials. It allows the owner to view a product/construct as a depot, inventory of valuable materials.
Furthermore, the process of creating a material passport also shapes the design of the building. The easier the materials can be extracted and re-used, the better. This will lead to an increase of ‘recoverable’ or ‘reversible’ buildings, buildings that can be dis-assembled as easily as they were assembled.
Another possibility is that a material passport enables the owner to get a better overview of value of the product/construct. Besides the value of the location and of the space, it can now also improve the valuation of the materials used. A higher, or more accurate, valuation of product/construct can be made possible.