Sector - Sustainability

Trends 2021: Sustainable Building

Steve Bennett is the Managing Director of Dura Products, a company that recycles plastic waste to manufacture sustainable road kerbs and combined kerb and drainage (CKD) systems. In this article, He discusses the need for sustainability in construction, and why this will drive an increase in use of recycled materials.

The UK Government’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development lays out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to work towards. They include combatting climate change, sustainably using natural resources, restoring and conserving ecosystems, and making human settlements sustainable[1]. The government has set ambitious recycling and carbon emission targets. For example, its 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy aims to eliminate avoidable waste of all kinds by 2050, whilst its Clean Growth Strategy outlines plans for decarbonising all sectors of the economy. The primary aim is to decrease the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050[2]. Consequently, it is no surprise that sustainability will be a prime focus across all industries in 2021, and construction is no exception.

The construction industry must innovate to ensure sustainable development, as it is currently the largest consumer of natural resources in the UK. It uses approximately 400 million tonnes of materials and produces a staggering 100 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste (CDW) each year[3]. This consists of materials such as plastic, concrete, metals, and glass, and accounts for just over a third of all waste sent to landfill. Furthermore, 10% of the UK’s carbon emissions are generated by construction activities, with this number rising to 45% once the entire built environment is taken into account[4]. Evidently, there is an urgent need for improvement in the way we manage our waste, and the materials we use.

Landfill receives nearly a quarter of all waste generated in the UK, with plastic making up a sizeable portion of this. The material has a very bad reputation, as its adverse effects on our planet are commonly reported, however, industry in general is heavily reliant on plastic for a variety of applications because it is durable, versatile, and cost-efficient. Historically, plastic was largely accepted as a created single-use commodity and sent to landfill or worse still, it was simply discarded and dumped. It has been obvious to many over recent times that this practice cannot continue hence the drive for more creative ways of dealing with waste. When there is a common and genuine desire for change then with a little innovation it is surprising what can be achieved. Since 2003, when we first started using recycled plastic, we have found that vast amounts of plastic waste are recyclable. As the demand for recycled material grows it prompts a continuing improving cycle creating new separation and recovery technologies that are inexpensive, increasingly prevalent and accessible.  The key issue has been improper management, which is unfortunately still a common occurrence that leads to high levels of polluting waste entering landfill. Innovative solutions applied in recent times has transformed waste plastic into a commodity, creating products that can be used again and again driving a circular economy.

The future of plastic in construction will incorporate its ability to be recycled and transformed into a range of products. Using recycled materials brings additional advantages, reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, because recycling generally requires fewer intensive processes when compared to the extraction and processing of raw resources. For example, we estimate that our plastic road kerbs, which are comprised of 88% recycled polymer, have diverted over 200,000 tonnes of plastic from entering landfill, and saved a total of 12,000,000 kgs of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

Recycled plastic brings other advantages due to its lightweight and strength. In the construction sector, they enable solutions that provide for safer working conditions. The reliance on heavy machinery, cutting tools, site resources and managed risk can be reduced considerably. Known risks such as airborne silica, musculoskeletal disorders are reduced. Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic has caused great disruption to the industry, with social distancing a requirement for the safety of workers on site. Our recycled plastic Durakerb at 6kg is 90% lighter than traditional products which allows one-operative installation within the restrictions.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest obstacles in the adoption of recycled plastic is cost. Contractors can be hesitant to use green materials as they can be more expensive to produce than building supplies from raw materials. However, cost-effective potential of recycling must be considered as it saves on disposal and landfill fees, as well as installation costs as plastic can be installed faster by fewer workers, due to its lightweight properties.

The recycling of materials is crucial if we are to develop sustainably, and so it will remain a key policy for everyone going into the future. In using recycled materials you are turning “already created waste” into a commodity and therefore actively reducing its impact on the environment. It is also important to educate the industry on its economic advantages too. As the sector recovers from the impact of COVID-19, the use of recycled materials in construction provides improved customer perception, which could be the winning factor in securing new business opportunities.

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