Lead Generation for Construction & the Built Environment

Reduction of Plastics in the Construction Industry

Reduction of Plastics in the Construction Industry

The construction industry is the largest user of natural resources as well as being responsible for one-third of the UK’s annual waste. Over 100 million tonnes of waste is produced annually, and a disproportionate amount of this is plastic. Not only is there plastic in a large percentage of building materials, but plastic packaging accounts for a very high proportion of our industry’s waste. Our Landfill sites are getting closer and closer to capacity, and with construction being the largest user of these sites, it is time for the industry to make some changes.

What is plastic doing to our planet?

We have all seen the disturbing images of turtles with straws stuck in their noses and dolphins strangled by plastic bags, and whilst many of us are more mindful of taking a reusable cup with us for our morning coffee and having the odd ‘bag for life’ stashed in the boot of our car, the plastic epidemic is much more serious than this, and a wider spread problem than we realise. Plastic can take anywhere from 10-1000 years to decompose depending on its composition, and the construction industry is the second biggest user of plastic, after packaging. With the exception of insulation, PVC is the most used plastic in construction alongside materials packaging, so it is absolutely essential that both construction and manufacturers look to alternative materials and packaging solutions to help reduce this waste. But it’s not just about the plastic that is used; it is also about the raw materials we strip from the earth to generate this plastic. Currently, fossil fuels make up 99% of the raw material base for plastic products. Although this may only equate to 4% of the crude oil used globally, that still means that each day almost three and a half million barrels of crude oil are used in plastic production.

What can we do to cut down on this waste?

Well firstly, and possibly the easiest method of cutting down on waste is preparation and planning. A huge proportion of plastic waste comes from over ordering of products, so more accurate estimating and measuring techniques need to be applied. Ordering materials to site in the correct sequence can prevent spoiled and damaged goods from being discarded. Request unwrapped delivery of items that do not require protective plastic packaging, and if the packaging is essential, ask your supplier whether they can use an alternative packaging solution or recycled plastic packaging. Look for more sustainable and eco-friendly building materials, and preferably recycled plastic materials. There are many options available today with a multitude of companies producing recycled plastic building blocks, fixtures and fittings that all appear to have the same life span as virgin plastic products. On large construction sites, think about other plastic waste that occurs from water bottles and disposable cups. Wates Residential recently announced that they were swapping single-use plastic cups for reusable bottles on their Abbey Area redevelopment in Camden. Wates estimated that the site used 120,000 cups per year, which would produce 5,000kg of plastic waste over a ten year period. The icing on the cake for Wates is not only a moral conscience but also a cost saving of £4,350 for each site that adopts the scheme. Well done Wates!

There is much to be done globally in our war against plastic wastage and certainly more to be done in our search for techniques and methods for plastic recycling within the construction sector. But the wheels are in motion, and we are all more aware of our moral obligations to the environment, our planet and future generations when it comes to the use of plastic. No one in construction is taking a back seat in fighting the plastic epidemic so watch this space.

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