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Our built environment — from houses to offices, schools and shops — is not environmentally benign. Buildings and the construction industry are, in fact, the world’s biggest consumer of raw materials and contribute 25–40% of global carbon dioxide emissions (F. Pomponi & A. J. Moncaster Clean. Prod.143, 710–718; 2017). Making buildings part of a circular economy that minimizes the waste of materials could therefore yield huge environmental rewards. Conversely, failure on this front could have dire consequences.