We need to talk about plastic

Charlie Ayers, Managing Director & Founder, SureCav

There’s no doubt, tackling climate change is high on the government’s list of priorities. This was recently evidenced by its decision to bring forward the ban on fossil fuelled road vehicles (ICE) by 2035 and phasing out gas powered boilers in new builds by next year. The intention is there even if it lacks the necessary strategy to achieve it. 

An area which remains a constant thorn in the side of the housebuilding industry is waste plastic. So far a number of industries have led the way in terms of innovation, but the construction industry is lagging behind. We urgently need to consider how we reimagine, recycle and reuse plastic. 

Of course, a good place to start would be an industry-wide evaluation on what classifies as essential plastics and to place much more emphasis on the use of recyclable materials. To achieve this we will need to win the hearts and minds of building product manufacturers as much as the developers purchasing their systems and solutions.

Next, and a slightly easier task to achieve, we need to consider how we make better use of recyclable plastics, from piping offcuts to workers’ water bottles. 

Since founding SureCav just over 15 years ago, I’ve been a passionate advocate of the circular economy and have found a new way to give high-impact, non-sustainable materials like waste plastic a new lease of life as low-impact ecologically friendly ones. Equally, we need to look at ways in which we can up-cycle certain products and design out others. Concrete, which has a very high carbon footprint is one which immediately springs to mind. 

The housebuilding sector has an opportunity and a duty to act now, becoming a catalyst for change across the whole construction industry.

Fundamentally, we cannot keep drawing on natural resources indefinitely and we need to think of how better to reuse what we already have. Last year the Ellen MacArthur Foundation published a report titled, Circular Economy In Cities: Making Buildings With New Techniques That Eliminate Waste And Support Material Cycles. Here the organisation makes a compelling case for the strategic sourcing of materials.

Importantly it promotes the use of locally sourced materials and keeping products in use continually to reduce virgin material demand. This could include everything from giving some materials a second life through recycling or salvaging undamaged and structurally sound materials from demolitions. It seems a better plan to me than have it all go to landfill or worse, fly-tipped. 

The potential benefits are myriad, aside from reducing the amounts of resource we excavate and exploit, we will see a reduction in pollution from building product processing and construction. Equally we will be reducing the amount of waste we generate, reducing pressure on landfill and ultimately, improving life quality for future generations. 

Ironically, if we are going to address the issue of waste plastic, we’re going to have to start thinking with a greater degree of plasticity.