Plastic, has become a central figure in our lives. We wake up and brush our teeth with it, we play on our phones that are designed with it, and we pull on our clothes that contain its fibres. To say that we have become comfortable being surrounded by plastic is something of an understatement, so, could it be conceived that we begin to think about solving the plastic waste crisis by building our homes with it?
That’s what we are going to discuss in this article.
The major problem with construction materials
Below are some of the major material issues that construction companies face in a world which is becoming increasingly concerned about carbon emissions and resource efficiency:
- Virgin materials may be shiny and new, but they are expensive and require taking a lot from the environment without giving back
- Embedded carbon is a major issue for contractors trying to do a low-carbon house build project
- Sourcing high quality construction materials can be difficult and may require international shipping
- The construction industry is responsible for most of the world’s carbon emissions, with the production of cement alone accounting for 8% of the global carbon output
Did you know that in commercial, educational, and residential construction projects, more than 40% of the embedded carbon is in the materials used for flooring. Since those floors will then mostly be covered up by laminate flooring or carpet (both of which require plastic to make) then the benefit of waste plastic becomes even more immediately obvious.
Why could plastic waste hold the key?
Truly zero-carbon materials do exist, such as soil, stones, adobe, sun-dried bricks, and unprocessed timber. They exist in nature and can be taken (though not in excess or irresponsibly) to be used as building materials. Now, plastic waste is certainly not zero-carbon by any stretch of the imagination, but thanks to its anatomy, it will exist on Earth forever, sadly often to be buried in landfills where it can serve little to no purpose.
Rather than digging it up like soil, clay, or stones, there is a strong case to make better use of it before it reaches the ground, by finding ways to manipulate the plastic into useful shapes and purposes for the construction industry. Fortunately, plastic comes in different grades or qualities, and with different structural components that lend themselves well to different construction and engineering applications. This versatility of waste plastic would kill several birds with one stone, helping to reduce the landfill and waste crisis, providing a consistent construction material to the building industry, and allowing contractors to use more sustainable materials.
Companies that are already putting waste plastic into the construction industry
We aren’t the only business championing this cause. Here are a select few of our UK favourites who are doing a wonderful job of turning plastic waste into a useful construction material.
- Kedel in Lancashire is one of several UK companies recycling plastic waste into lumber and planks, a type of eco-friendly mock wood. The material is sturdy, versatile, and can be used for many indoor and outdoor purposes. Another great example, especially for coastal projects, is Lankhorst. For eco-wood made from polystyrene, check out Highwood.
- Visqueen in Northamptonshire are winning many supporters for creating the first 100% post-use recycled polyethylene damp proof membrane. This is typically applied as a waterproof layer for building foundations.
- SDS Limited in Somerset take landfill-destined PVC waste and turn it into a low-weight, honeycomb structure modular sustainable drainage system called the SDS GEOlight.
- MacRebur in Lockerbie describes themselves as ‘the end of the road for waste plastics’ which is quite fitting as they have found a way to recycle waste plastic into high quality road surfaces.
The potential is endless
As we receive dire warnings from campaigners like Sir David Attenborough about the state of the oceans, where millions of tonnes of plastic do their damage, we have to believe that solutions will come about. However, these solutions won’t come about naturally, they will come about by people investing in scientific research, by building businesses and systems that are effective in managing plastic waste, and by aggressively pursuing uses for the material.
Perhaps plastic is not the perfect building material, but the fact remains that it exists in abundance, is a major waste issue, and is wonderfully versatile. Using waste plastic also means that we are saving natural resources from being taken from the environment, where they typically belong.