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Plastic Waste in Construction – Should The Industry Be Doing More?

12th July 2019

Plastic waste is a burning issue at the moment and, with images of plastics filling our oceans seen across the news, an issue the public are becoming increasingly aware of. This month is Plastic Free July, a global movement to try to reduce plastic waste.  So in honour of that, we’re thinking about plastic waste in construction and what the industry can do to reduce the impact.

How does the construction industry use plastic?

In the UK, the construction industry is the second largest consumer of plastics behind packaging, with 23% of plastic produced in the UK being used by the construction industry.

Plastic is a valuable resource in the construction industry – it’s a durable, flexible, lightweight & cost-effective material. Therefore, the industry is heavily dependent on plastic, with it being the go-to option for packaging and protection for many items on building sites, also being used in insulation, piping & window frames.

How much plastic waste does the industry produce?

Being a large consumer of plastics in the UK, it’s no surprise that construction is one of the largest plastic waste producers, generating around 50,000 tonnes of plastic waste each year.

Single use packaging is estimated to be a third of waste leaving sites, which is thrown into landfills or into oceans. Only around a small percentage of total construction plastic waste is actually recycled. Plastic waste is destroying natural habitats, and we’re also running out of landfill areas to dispose of the waste in!

So what steps can the industry take to reduce plastic waste? Is the answer reducing the use of plastics, or to stop throwing it away and re-use and recycle the plastic waste?

Recycling & Re-Using Plastic Waste

Recycled plastic can be used to create valuable construction materials. For example, research has shown that waste plastic can be used as a partial replacement for sand in concrete. This would result in concrete which is almost as strong as conventional concrete. Follow this link to learn more about the research.

Recycled plastics can also be used to make asphalt, which has recently been used in road resurfacing by Enfield Council. You can read more here.

You can also reduce the amount of plastic waste on your site by:

Creating a site waste management plan – this should ideally be done before a project begins. By doing this, a construction company can allocate exactly the right amount of materials needed to complete the project, and waste can be recycled & re-used. Read more on the important of a site waste management plan.

Using sustainable materials. For example, BAM investigated using biodegradable packaging materials that break down completely in the environment.

The first step is recognising that members of the construction industry have a part to play in reducing plastic waste, accepting that responsibility and starting to make small changes.

As always, if you’re on the lookout for a new job then take a look at our live vacancies here. If you’re a client who is looking to recruit a temporary or permanent member of staff, then contact your local branch here.

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