Unless you’ve had had your head buried in the sand in recent years, you can’t have failed to notice that plastic is the new bogeyman. And single-use plastic is the biggest monster of all. Thousands of tonnes are reaching the earth’s oceans. Even more going to landfill. And the uncomfortable truth is that the construction industry is one of the biggest culprits in perpetuating the problem.
The construction industry has a plastic problem. A 50,000 tonne per annum problem with plastic packaging alone. It’s fair to say that the sector has not been the quickest on the uptake with the reduce, reuse, recycle agenda. In fact, the launch of Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) “Spotlight on … plastics and packaging” campaign last year threw up some shocking statistics:
- 23% of plastic produced in the UK is consumed by the construction industry
- 25% of construction packaging waste by weight is plastic
- 3x more packaging waste is produced by construction than all UK households combined
- 25% of skips that leave site during the construction phase are filled with disposable packaging, including cardboard, timber and plastic
As a permanent building material, plastic is often unbeatable. But in it’s single-use form – the type that gets discarded – it becomes a problem. 25% of plastic waste in construction is in packaging but substantial amounts come from unused materials caused by over ordering, over-specification, and throwing away damaged items caused in transport, storage or handling.
As the issue becomes more ingrained in public consciousness – and who hasn’t been nagged about plastics at home by eco-savvy teens and children? – then the construction industry will come under increasing pressure to drive better practice through the supply chain.
It is possible to reduce the amount of plastic going to landfill. In Germany for instance, construction generates 201.8 million tonnes of waste in construction and demolition, with around 90% of that recycled. Around 80% of the plastic waste in Germany is recycled, compared to less than 40% in the UK.
Reduce: suppliers can deliver in larger packs, cutting the volume of packaging per item. Some manufacturers are developing reusable crates and pallet take-back schemes.
Reuse: merchants and contractors are beginning to ask suppliers to take packaging away to reuse for the next delivery.
Recycle: Of course with a complex problem like this, the answers are never simple. For example, many companies trying to reduce the amount of plastic they send to waste are stymied by issues like the co-mingling of different types of plastic: it is nigh on almost impossible to identify the type of plastic involved as there is so little labelling. Using a licensed Waste Management Contractor to dispose of packaging can drastically increase the amount recycled.
It seems high time that the construction industry made as much effort to reduce single use plastics at work as they are at home