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Sustainable construction materials: The carbon footprint of recycled plastics

Date: 22nd March 2023 Fabrication

Leaving a steel cap boot-sized carbon footprint on the planet

It’s hardly an industry secret that construction is a huge contributor to global carbon emissions, but that doesn’t mean the industry can’t make meaningful changes to fix this. One of the ways to make a change for the better is to use more sustainable construction materials. 

As it stands, buildings are responsible for 39% of global related carbon emissions: 28% from “operational” emissions, which includes the environmental costs it takes to run the building, and the other 11% are from “embodied” emissions. Embodied emissions are the byproduct of manufacturing materials for construction of buildings.  

The need for construction shows no signs of slowing down. The world’s population is anticipated to reach 10 billion by the middle of the century and, with it, building stock is expected to double by 2050. It has been predicted that embodied carbon emissions will be responsible for half of the carbon emissions of new construction between now and 2050. The construction industry has a responsibility to embrace sustainable materials now, to help ensure the survival of our planet.

The construction industry’s carbon footprint: Can we fix it? Yes, we can! 

While you may feel helpless to the climate crisis, there are sustainable building materials available to help reduce your company’s carbon footprint.

When trying to promote conservation practices, it may seem best to turn back to traditional, natural building materials like plywood or timber. But, in actuality, they can prove inefficient and expensive in the long run – after all, there was a reason why the production of plastic revolutionised the construction industry. Plastic has a bad reputation for damaging the environment, but it might be time to rethink your viewpoint on using plastics as a sustainable alternative.

Out with the old and in with the…old

Plastic proves an invaluable material in construction for its durability, tensile strength and its ease to wash down, especially compared to traditional wood materials that splinter, rot and need to be replaced more over time. And although manufacturing new plastics is generally seen as a step backwards for sustainability, the use of recycled plastics can actually help to reduce landfill usage and emissions, as well as preventing the need to cut down forests for timber. 

Recycled plastics are cost-effective alternatives that don’t cost the earth. Their longevity means less time and money spent on maintenance, so you can invest it elsewhere. 

  • Recycled plastic proves more cost-effective in the long run, compared to a wood product which requires regular replacement
  • Recycled plastics can last up to 5 times longer than treated wood and won’t rot, crack or splinter
  • The slightly higher initial price of recycled construction materials is soon returned through long-term savings in maintenance and replacement costs 
  • Construction materials made out of recycled plastic are a perfect solution to helping reduce carbon emissions without harming the efficiency of your company
  • Wooden materials in construction are difficult to recycle efficiently 

Coming around to the circular economy 

To help your company operate as environmentally consciously as possible, recycled plastic can be a great choice for your sustainable construction material. It is indisputable that plastic is a versatile, useful and invaluable material, but currently 79% of plastic worldwide ends up in landfill or the environment. Plastic accounts for 3.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions  but, if all plastic were to be recycled instead of sitting in a landfill, this could mean an annual saving of 30 to 150 million tonnes of CO2 – that’s the equivalent of stopping between 8 and 40 coal-fired power plants. 

The construction industry could add to its sustainability goals by taking a two-pronged attack: not only by recycling their plastic waste, but also by sourcing sustainable construction materials such as recycled plastic. This helps double your efforts to direct plastic away from landfills without compromising on the quality of your materials.

At Centriforce, we offer services to help you recycle your HDPE and LDPE plastic waste, turning it into our industry-leading recycled plastic damage prevention solutions. Find out more here.

Life cycle assessment 

Plastic certainly has a poor reputation. You don’t have to look far to see it littered on the streets, causing devastation to marine life as it fills out oceans. But, while the production of plastic does have an impact on our environment, it is the disposal of it that is the greatest issue. Through innovative recycling procedures, however, we have been able to produce materials that outperform their competitors in both usage and life cycle, without using virgin plastics.

Hand in hand with deciphering the sustainability of a resource’s production is its life cycle assessment (LCA). In 2018, the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy was created by the European Commission. A vision was put forward in which alternative materials and feedstock should only be developed on the condition that there was evidence that they were more sustainable than non-renewable alternatives. 

The LCA assesses products from cradle to grave, which follows the extraction of resources to end-of-life management. Products made out of recycled plastic materials are unique in offering a cradle-to-cradle life cycle, which studies the processes but also considers the energy recovered from incineration or the raw material replacement due to being recycled. 

Recycled plastic outperforms wood on the sustainability front. Closed-loop cycling has huge significance in the environmental performance of plastics. Using recycled materials in construction helps reduce the industry’s carbon emissions, but also helps tackle the pre-existing issue of vast amounts of plastics being sent to landfill. 

Whilst wood can be, and is, recycled, the majority of wood disposal comes from the construction sector. This is especially difficult to rectify as scrap wood tends to be mixed in with laminates, treated timber, MDF and plywood to help it have a similar performance to plastics. After these processes have taken place, the waste wood is more difficult to recycle – much more so than plastic.

Pioneers of recycled plastic

Are you looking to reduce your company’s carbon footprint? Centriforce offers a wide range of recycled plastic products that promise high performance, outstanding durability and versatility while helping you do your bit for the environment.

As a pioneer of innovation with recycled materials, with over 40 years of experience, we are your experts in sustainable construction materials that are not only created from recycled plastics, but also recyclable themselves. To find out more about how we can help you reduce your business’ carbon footprint, contact us today