Plastic usage is one of the big issues that needs to be addressed to protect our environment. And it’s one that the construction industry can play a major role in, due to the large amount of plastic it uses and plastic waste it generates.
One veteran of the industry is keen to inspire the change in practice that’s needed. He’s Neal Maxwell, whose business is mostly focused in the northwest of England. He was on a 60th birthday trip when he had a revelation that led him to create an organisation called Changing Streams.
A Road to Damascus moment
Neal Maxwell had a Road to Damascus moment when he was on this holiday of a lifetime on this cruise ship around the Arctic. It was packed with scientists, experts on the environment experts on pollution and climate change. So there were lectures as well as you know, different social occasions on the ship. And they actually went out onto icebergs and on to ice sheets, but they were swarm The upshot of plastic pollution in the oceans. And Mr. Maxwell was shocked at the level of plastic pollution.
For example, they they were showing pictures of walruses and wheels and so on. And she won their stomachs after autopsies and things like that they had ingested plastic pollution, even in small levels, which killed a lot of the wildlife.
The global picture of what plastic production is doing
Just to give you a global picture of what plastic production is doing, it isn’t just polluting oceans, and endangering sea life in the Arctic and other and other parts of the world, even in warmer climates. It’s also adding the greenhouse gases report by the Centre for international environment law in 2019, said that plastic production and incineration will add over 850 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. They say that the equivalent of emissions from 189 coal fired power plants 189, coal fired power plants.
And if this continued these emissions by 2050 is 10 years after need Maxwell’s Iam to produce plastic in the industry to zero, it could rise to 2.8 billion metric tonnes. In other words, it’s going up. So even though we’re closing a lot of coal fired power stations around the world, the incineration and production of plastic is adding to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So it’s a major player, not just in terms of pollution, but also climate change itself.
The British construction industry
He investigated his own business, and found that the British construction industry, it’s estimated trades and about 50,000 tonnes of plastic waste each year. And he was quite shocked by that.
Now, there was another road to Damascus moment when he got back from the Arctic Circle to Liverpool leaves in his native city. And he was in a supermarket and he saw all the products that were covered by plastic, having been told about the damage, it’s doing the ocean life, he basically ran out of the store. He was so frustrated and angry about the use of plastic, but he thought he has to do something different. And the only thing he can do to make a difference is to look at his own industry, where he’s earned a living for the last three decades.
So he funded this non-profit organisation last year called Changing Streams. He’s grown up a programme for the construction industry and the M is the MC. British construction plastic free by 2014 is teamed up with a number of academics from the University of Liverpool from the School of environmental science, oceanographers, people involved in monitoring the climate and monitoring pollution. And they’ve come up with a couple of basic steps to reduce the production of plastic waste in the building industry.
Plastic in paint
Plastic was not always in paint. I mean plastic is an invention from from the 1950s from a US multinational and so on the back of that he proposes the establishment of a traffic light guide to warn which paints contain plastics. There are some pins on the shelves of DIY stores and suppliers that don’t contain plastic. So he wants a traffic lead system printed on 10s of pins to display For example, DIY consumers, even our painters and decorators, and so on, tell them which pins contain plastic and which don’t. What they’re also doing is proposing the end of use for things like plastic wrapping for building materials like bricks and cladding. And so they’re looking at alternatives. For instance, bamboo was suggested as one potential for wrapping up building materials. They’re also planning to build a template house, probably within the confines of the university, let’s meet entirely without plastic, something that can be studied as a model for housing in the future, which will not have the by-product of plastic pollution.
One argument Neal and others put forward for shifting away from using plastic in the construction industry is that until around the 1950s, it wasn’t used, because it wasn’t widely available. And we have moved away from other harmful materials, notably asbestos due to its negative impact on health.
But what about the cost?
The key question, of course, is what’s it gonna cost and I think that is his biggest hurdle he has time over which has an uncanny, persuade, hardheaded, business minded, profit driven fellow builders like themselves, to move towards a plastic free industry.
One of the things they will be doing as though as well as drawing up this charter to make the industry plastic free, starting with paint, for example, is particularly a the government and future governments to adopt this as legally binding regulations in the same way. They have done so over things like asbestos, but also to petition, for example, large pension fund providers, which finance construction in certain areas to adopt the charter as well, there will be a companion aspect to changing strings to persuade political leaders and industry leaders that this is the way the way forward. And you know, given the focus on green energy, renewables, the advance of the electric car, and so on, we see that going and not in a green direction anywhere in here. He thinks he’s part of that he’s surfing that wave. I also spoke to Dr. Garcia, Abraham’s, who’s working with Neil Maxwell. And he points out that the university and Liverpool are actually aiming to construct some plastic free accommodation on its campus and when I was last there, but just before the pandemic broke out, you could hardly hear yourself think or speak, the amount of drilling going on and work going on, on campus.
So one of their projects is to say is to create the first ever plastic neutral commercially viable hosts, because they want to show the building industry this can be done. And through things like coding piano and other materials, they want to change consumer behaviour and that includes consumers who are buying houses or renting houses. And indeed, landlords as well. will be looking to see we’re changing strings has got to propel the industry itself. You know, how many companies have engaged with them in relation to reducing their plastic consumption. So I will be interviewing Neil mocksville I’m one of the academic teams are connected with changing streams in the next edition of this podcast.