Green building designs have made their mark on the construction industry, thanks in part to a desire for homes and commercial buildings that are more energy-efficient, as well as a desire to make homes and buildings more sustainable and resilient. Benefits from this efficiency include lower monthly energy costs and the reduction of carbon emissions.
Many construction companies and architecture firms have led the way on sustainability – in fact, 9 out of 10 architects consider sustainability a priority when choosing project products and materials.
On a parallel course, but with terrible PR, is plastic. When you hear about plastic waste it’s all about the ocean and landfills that are teeming with the stuff. Birds and fish getting wrapped up in plastic refuse . . . you get the picture. But there is good news out there if you pay attention – and good news is happening when it comes to building materials that are incorporating plastics at an ever-increasing rate.
A one-year study* has shown that the energy that comes from using plastics as a primary construction material is enough to meet the average annual energy needs of 4.6 million U.S. households.
More news comes from not only using plastics in construction, but plastics that have been recycled. Not only does this follow the trend of efficient energy, but it also saves space in landfills and reduces costs to an even lower level.
When recycled plastic is blended with virgin plastic, costs can be lowered because there is a lower amount of brand-new plastic being used and produced. Using recycled plastic can also help save on the costs of other materials, such as wood and slate.
As a low-cost alternative to other materials, this type of plastic being salvaged has brought new life to many industries and companies across the country.
Concrete – Recycled plastics can be used to make stronger concrete structures in the form of sidewalks, driveways and more. Students at MIT have conducted experiments with recycled plastic by exposing small amounts of it to gamma radiation, mixing it into a powder, and then mixing that into cement paste. Doing so can produce concrete that is up to 15 percent stronger than regular concrete.
Structural Lumber – Using recycled plastic as the main ingredient in structural lumber as an alternative to other materials such as steel, comes with indisputable advantages. By using plastic to make lumber instead of wood, you no longer have to spray wood with toxic preservatives to protect it from aspects such as insects and weather.
Fences – Another part of a home-building journey may include fencing in a backyard. Homeowners can prioritize sustainability by specifying fences from recycled plastic. Advantages of building fences with recycled plastic include longevity, durability and when it comes to painting, color can be added in during the recycling process.
There are more and more ways that plastic and recycled plastic are making their ways into building materials – bricks, floor and ceiling tiles, PVC windows and indoor insulation. If builders and architects keep pushing from their end and more awareness is brought to industry leaders, more and more building materials will incorporate the very plastics that is plaguing our oceans and landfills.
*Franklin Associates, Ltd., U.S. DOE and U.S. Census Bureau