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News | 2021-03-19

Lack of alternatives to fossil-based plastics in the construction sector

The construction sector in Sweden uses around 260,000 tonnes of plastic every year, making the sector the second largest user after the packaging industry. Most of the plastic is made from fossil oil and is incinerated when it has become waste, which leads to greenhouse gas emissions. A new easy-to-read report will inspire increased use of bio-based and recycled plastic as a way to reduce the construction sector's climate impact.

The report has mapped a selection of different categories of construction products to identify alternatives of bio-based or recycled plastic.

– Unfortunately, there is an obvious shortage of construction products from bio-based and recycled plastic. It is also often difficult to find detailed information, for example on manufacturers 'and suppliers' websites, says Anna Fråne at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, who has led the work on the report.

Carbon is the main ingredient in all plastics. Conventional plastic is made from coal from oil and natural gas, while bio-based plastic is made from coal from renewable sources, mainly carbohydrate-rich crops such as maize and sugar cane, but also from forest waste and vegetable oils. There are bio-based equivalents to most of the most common fossil-based plastics used in the construction sector, but it is still difficult to find examples of use in construction products in particular.

The best selection is available for floor and wall mats

The survey covers six product groups where a lot of plastic is used: pipes, insulation, floor and wall carpets, moisture and weather protection, windows and doors and electrical installations.

The best range of both bio-based and recycled alternatives is available for floor and wall mats, according to the report. No bio-based alternatives were found for electrical installations as well as windows and doors.

– However, the report does not claim to be comprehensive, there are new products on the market all the time, but for some product groups it was much more difficult to find alternatives than for others, says Anna Fråne.

A guide with alternative products

The report serves as a guide and lists a number of alternative products. It also provides solid tips on what those working in the construction industry can do to ensure that fossil-based plastic ends up in buildings.

– Ask manufacturers and suppliers if the products contain bio-based or recycled plastic. Also ask what proportion is recycled or bio-based plastic in the product, what type of recycled plastic is used and what raw materials the bio-based plastic has been made of. This is the first step in influencing so that the use of plastics in the industry changes, says Anna Fråne.

The report was produced on behalf of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and was carried out by SMED, Swedish Environmental Emissions Data, which is a collaboration between IVL, Statistics Sweden, SLU and SMHI.

For more information, please contact:
Anna Fråne, anna.frane@ivl.se, +46 (0)10-788 67 41

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