ASBP Conference about Plastics in Construction

Solutions and alternative materials to reduce health and environmental risks of plastics are accessible now.

Q&A session during the opening lecture of Emily Penn, founder of eXXpedition at the ASBP Conference. (c) natureplus

ASBP exhibition in the foyer of the London South Bank University attracted many visitors. (c) natureplus

More than 200 delegates and 20 exhibitors took part in the Third Annual Conference and Exhibition about Plastics in Construction in London organised by the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products ASBP. Inspiring lectures and fruitful discussions dealt with the issue of plastic pollution and discussed what solutions the built environment industry can provide. The natureplus association informed as an exhibitor about its mission for sustainable construction and natureplus certified products that offer environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic based materials such as insulation out of renewable materials.

Plastic, An Issue for the Environment & Human Health

Emily Penn, eXXpedition founder, opened the conferencewith an inspiring talk. She skippers journeys to investigate plastics in our oceans. She found plastic and components of plastic everywhere and, after having a blood test, even in her body. According to Penn, cleaning oceans from plastic pollution is a challenge that still must be solved. However, the use of plastics can be reduced already today. Everyone can be part of the solution and help to reduce plastic use and production, also, in the construction sector.

Dr Stephanie Wright, research associate at King's College London, studies the connection between human health and plastic. (Micro) plastic are found in all stages of the human food chain e.g. in shellfish. Petrochemical materials are not only an environmental problem but also an issue for human health. The impacts and implications of plastic in construction are just beginning to be understood. These impacts span across the whole life cycle from extraction, manufacturing, to toxicity and fire e.g. hydrogen cyanide and continue until the end of life phase. Dr Wright explained, that the construction industry is the second largest user of plastic, with 20 percent of all plastic waste. It is estimated that globally 300 MT of plastic are produced annually. 50 percent of this is just for single use purposes.

Solutions and Sustainable Materials

Jasper Hamlet, project officer of the environmental charity FIDRA, addressed the issue of plastic contaminating the environment before it had even been turned into anything. He manages a project to reduce pollution caused by so called nurdles. Nurdles are pre-production plastic pellets, which accumulate as (“unintended”) waste during production and transport for the plastics using industry and are released into the environment. More and more nurdles are found in oceans and at beaches and thus have become a serious issue. Data about the distribution are difficult to estimate. As a solution, Hamlet emphasises that a certifying system for industrial plastics producers and users should be implemented with external auditors.

Professor Anna Stec of the University of Central Lancashire presented findings about the fire toxicity of building products. Fire smoke and toxicity are the biggest causes of death and injury in fires but rarely regulated in the building sector. Depending on the material composition of a building fire toxicity varies broadly. Since petrochemical-based insulation materials increase growth and severity of fires, flame retardants are added to reduce these risks. However, flame retardants produce fire smoke with higher concentrations of toxicants, thus increasing harm for human’s health. Studying fire fighters in a fire operation scenario showed that they absorb theses toxicants through gear and skin. Professor Stec recommends developing regulations that address the effect of material composition on fire toxicity and the health risk of flame retardants in combustible insulation material.

Following the presentations, there were intensive discussions with the speakers and exhibitors. As good examples for low plastic proportion in construction, ASBP awarded three sustainable building projects at the conference. In addition, natureplus granted an award to EcoCocon, a timber straw module working without any plastic component. All presentations are available for download on the ASBP homepage.

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