To celebrate ‘Plastic Free July’, Insulation Express has uncovered five ways on that the construction industry can lessen its plastic consumption on a day-to-day basis:

Every year the UK uses over 5 million tonnes of plastic – that’s about 15 times as heavy as the Empire State Building. But did you know the construction industry accounts for a quarter (23%) of the plastic consumed in the UK? The construction industry is still heavily reliant on plastic, for its cheapness, durability and water-resistance making it the second largest consumer of plastic in the UK.

However, what makes plastic so useful for construction is also part of its demise. The resilience of plastic means it can take up to 1000 years to decompose, while it degrades it contaminates our soils and oceans with the release of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases. So, how can the industry lessen its plastic footprint?

The most common sources of plastic waste in construction

When plastic is used in a permanent form, it can be vital as a building material. However, when the material is single-use plastic, this becomes a bigger problem, that’s wasteful and can be easily avoided. These are the most common sources of plastic waste in construction:

  • Plastic packaging (which accounts for 25% of packaging waste in construction).
  • Unused materials from over ordering and off-cuts.
  • Improper storage and handling.
  • Over-specified project design.
  • Workforce food packaging and utensils.

Annually, 50,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste is produced by the UK’s construction industry

It’s believed the construction industry has an effective management of plastic waste, but the picture is not as transparent. The British construction industry generates 50,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste per year – that’s four times the weight of The Brooklyn Bridge. Much of that plastic waste is incinerated, adding toxic fumes to the air we breathe. Other large amounts of plastic are placed in mixed waste skips which is impossible to recycle, because they can’t be identified, or they are contaminated with other materials. This has helped to contribute to 5 trillion micro-plastic particles floating in oceans, which we then consume through water or from fish.

40% of plastic waste from construction in the UK is sent to landfill

It’s estimated that large quantities of plastic leave construction sites in mixed waste skips – sending 40% (20,000 tonnes) of plastic to landfill, a weight that is twice as heavy as The Eiffel Tower.

On the other end of the scale, Germany recovers and recycles a huge proportion of the plastic waste created in construction. In total, Germany generates 201.8 million tonnes of waste in construction and demolition, but around 90% of that is recycled, and around 80% of the plastic waste is recycled.


How construction can reduce plastic packaging waste in construction

Research reveals that a huge third of single-use packaging leaving sites is single-use packaging. Shockingly, only 2-4% of this is recycled. The rest is diverted to landfill, fly-tipped, or burnt. It is clear that the amount of plastic being sent to landfill is not sustainable for either the environment or construction.

Most of the industry realises something needs to change, with 95% of construction professionals admitting that the industry needs to reduce plastic use. But, how can this be achieved?

  • A huge proportion of packaging thrown away can often be reused. You can talk with your supplier to see if they can reduce the packaging, or if they’re able to take back the packaging to recycle.
  • It may be more beneficial to order in bulk or larger packs, as this will cut the volume of packaging per item.
  • You could use reusable plastic boxes to place and protect materials in. These boxes can then be returned to the supplier.
  • Use large sheets of plastic sheeting that arrived as wrapping for use on site as weather protection.
  • For the plastic packaging that can’t be recycled, send it to a licensed Waste Management Contractor. They are best placed to decide their destination.

Not only does a reduction in packaging waste help the environment, it can also help your business too – financially. One contractor, Risby Homes, saved £13,000 on a 25-home development project, simply by reducing, reusing and recycling their plastic waste.

Construction companies can make simple changes that save money by reducing packaging waste, such as:

  • Cutting costs by reusing packaging where possible.
  • Time spent on handling waste, such as clearing and collecting waste, can be lengthy and pricey. Especially considering this cost can be easily cut by reducing packaging.
  • Slashing the costs of skip hire and transport costs, as well as reducing the ever-increasing fees of landfill sites and tax.

The Innovative Ways Plastic is Being Recycled Across Construction

How can construction reduce and recycle the plastic in construction? Some companies in the industry are even creating decking from recycled plastic, which can save 1000 plastic bottles from landfill in a single metre of decking. That means in just a small sized decking 3,600 plastic bottles could be diverted from landfill.

But it doesn’t just stop there, Insulation Express has discovered the most innovative ways construction are reusing waste materials.

Nappy Roofing – More than half a million tonnes of waste is created in Britain from disposable nappies, and with each one taking around 500 years to decompose this is a concerning problem. But, instead of letting the waste decompose, you could be looking at roofing your house with them. A company have found a way to turn waste nappies into roof tiles, which could save 110,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year.

Plastic Roads – Roads are traditionally made from asphalt which uses stone and gravel to form the infrastructure. However, future roads could be made from used plastic – dubbed plasphalt. Amazingly, as well as a way of recycling plastic, this method of forming pavements is also stronger than asphalt and less expensive.

Plastic Concrete – Researchers from Bath University have found an ingenious way to save sand and reuse plastic waste. The scientists have discovered that 10% of the sand in concrete can be replaced with plastic waste. Concrete requires 30% of sand, which strips our beaches and riverbeds. Just replacing 10% of it can save over 800 million tonnes of sand.

What Does the Future Hold for Plastic in Construction?

Plastic still has a place in construction; it’s durable, waterproof and lasts long. Although plastic is polluting our environment, it doesn’t have to be the enemy. Indeed, there are ways for plastic to be part of the solution, such as recycling plastic into other building materials. In the future we may see a massive take up of alternatives to plastic in construction, some of these are already being developed and trialled. But for the average construction professional, you can reduce plastic use by talking to your supplier, educating your workforce and setting a good example to employees.

In UK alone, 50 million tyres are discarded each year. With an ever increasing volume of vehicles in the world, the disposal of spent tyres is a serious issue. Often dumped in landfill, these tyres pose untold risk to health, safety and the wellbeing of our environment. However, used tyres do have their uses. For example, one such material that is made from discarded tyres could double the resilience of structures in disaster prone regions, ensuring safe and sturdy infrastructure whilst simultaneously reducing waste.

New research published in the Journal Earthquake Engineering and Structural Dynamics has described a new method of protecting bridge infrastructure in disaster-prone regions using used tyres that may otherwise be sent to landfill.

Academics from the Universities of Surrey and Thessaloniki (Greece) looked at how bridges, in particular Integral Abutment Bridges (IABs) react to stress and how simple measures could be taken to protect this vital infrastructure from wear-and-tear, as well as in the event of extreme dynamic impacts such as earthquakes.

Lead author, Dr Stergios Mitoulis of the University of Surrey explained, “Bridges are important infrastructure assets, which are costly to construct and maintain. Their maintenance is a major challenge in most developing countries and significant investment is required to ensure they remain safe and usable, especially in disaster situations.”

“In developing countries especially, there is a need to build bridges using simple and inexpensive methods. This had led to a type of bridge known as an integral bridge becoming increasingly popular which is a simple frame structure with no extra parts such as bearings or expansion joints, it is maintenance-free but has limitations meaning that they can only be used over short lengths. Where the bridge meets the land the soil moves and shifts and in times of stress this can lead to extended damages or collapse. The longer the bridge, the greater the risk of collapse.”

The challenge for the researchers was to find an inexpensive and effective material to bolster bridges, providing support but also providing a buffer able to withstand the force of earthquake situations regardless of the length of the bridge. The team turned to conventional tyres, of which 50 million are discarded in the UK alone each year, and which were banned from the UK’s landfills in 2009. The waste tyres will be used to create a new product, called the isolator, namely a flexible and elastic layer of reused tyres. This flexible layer will be used to absorb movements, reducing costs of repair.

“As with many of the challenges we face in engineering, the answer came from an unexpectedly simple source,” explained Dr Mitoulis. “We were looking for a readily available, cheap and effective material that would keep its cool under pressure. That’s when we thought about the possibility of recycling common tyres and putting to good use a material destined for landfill. We use old tyres to create an aggregate that effectively provides double the performance of conventional designs when movements due to earthquakes or temperature changes are simulated.”

The new design will eventually allow for safer and sturdier bridges in areas that do not have the means to erect expensive structures that require extensive maintenance. The team will now look for new market opportunities in diverse infrastructure assets that are expected to be benefitted by these recycled isolators, including quay and retaining walls and building foundations.

A new study from price comparison website MoneySuperMarket visualises the way people across the world affect the environment

  • Britain has a greener population than France, Germany and the United States – but is only 16th in Europe for green living and 53rd worldwide
  • Air pollution in the UK is more than double that of the US – and linked to 40,000 early deaths a year

A new study from MoneySuperMarket today reveals how people impact their environment, both in the UK and throughout the world. The new research highlights the individual contribution to the world’s climate – as well as highlighting areas for improvement for each country.

Britain managed to rank 53rd overall for individual impact on the world*, boasting a greener population than France, Germany and the United States. Overall, the UK is only 14% worse on an average score than Mozambique, the top-scoring country for environmental awareness, and 51% better than Trinidad & Tobago, the worst.

But the country shows up poorly when it comes to energy usage – only 22 per cent of UK energy is green, so even low usage has a higher impact in the world compared to Bhutan or Albania, where energy is nearly 100% green.

The French perform even worse, with green power at a low-ranking 17 per cent of their total usage. They also throw away seven per cent more waste than the UK every day.

And while Ireland is near the bottom of the rankings (99th overall) due to high waste and mid-level wastewater treatment, our air pollution is more than double. The United States, too, rank lower than Britain at 101st, but their air pollution is only 2.9µg/m3, compared to our 7.6µg/m3. This air pollution is linked to over 40,000 early deaths in the UK a year**.

Britain Among the Worst in Europe for CO2

Despite somewhat positive overall standing for per-person CO2 emissions, the UK’s results are poor compared with much of Europe, with 71% of other continental countries producing less of the greenhouse gas per capita.

9% of the UK’s CO2 emissions emanate from the capital each year, with industrial contributions only 22% higher than domestic.

Landfill Concerns

Previous UK policies have attempted to reduce the size of landfill, with limited success. Only 25% of municipal waste in the UK is recycled, with 49% being sent directly to landfill.

The average British citizen throws away 1.79kg of municipal solid waste a day – a higher amount than 50% of other European countries, including Sweden and the Czech Republic, and higher than anywhere in South America or Asia, with the exclusion of Sri Lanka.

As well as being an eyesore and damaging to the immediate local environment, landfills produce copious quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the effect on global warming of CO2.

“We wanted to know what our personal input to the environment was,” said Stephen Murray, Energy Expert at, “Everyone wants to get their carbon footprint down, but now we can see exactly how the UK compares to the rest of the world – it really puts it in perspective.”

Using the interactive map you can view the breakdown of the different measurements that make up the average individual human impact in each country, including energy consumption, air pollution and reliance on non-renewable energy, see the MoneySuperMarket human impact interactive map here.