During Plastic Free July, Element Four contacted 29 leading companies in the construction industry to find out what they are doing to reduce plastic usage and waste. We invited, chased, and nagged these organisations; most respondents are unwilling to share how their companies address plastic issues. Some promised they would provide some information but never get back to us. Despite our immense effort to try getting in touch with these property developers, construction suppliers and wholesaling hardware stores, it is surprising that there was only one company willing to communicate on their plastic reduction effort.
The UK construction industry produces over 50,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste annually. According to the UK government's data, the UK plastic packaging waste recycling / recovery rate is less than 50%; this is the overall percentage for all plastic packaging waste, including household, commercial, and industrial waste. Therefore, we are unsure how much plastic waste is recycled within the construction industry. All we can be sure of is that the rest of the unrecycled plastic waste will end up in landfills, incineration or export to other countries. In addition, the mismanagement of plastic waste may bring contamination to our soils and oceans along with the release of greenhouse gases.
It is a known fact that the UK has limited capacity to recycle the plastic it produces; therefore, we must investigate the root of how we can reduce the use of plastics within the industry. How can we break the inherent operating model and find a solution to the plastic problem? It seems clear that the whole industry is lagging on this issue of great importance to public concern.
Since we are unable to find out how organisations deal with the existing plastic problems in the construction industry, we continued to research channels that could help the industry tackle the plastic issue. We came across the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products (ASBP) during our research, a non-profit organisation promoting sustainable building products. As a result of the low response rate from our Plastic Free July research, Element Four has joined ASBP and will actively contribute to their steering groups, working to proactively implement solutions. We will also be meeting regularly with policymakers and continue working to influence government policy on plastics. We believe some of the reasons the construction industry has not yet tackled the plastic problem is the lack of financial incentives and supportive policies. Element Four will speak up for the industry and drive meaningful action for positive change.
To learn more about plasctis in construction, click here and checkout the Introductory Q&A Guide published by ASBP.