Recycling construction materials

Recycling plastic from construction projects


In the construction industry, plastic is mainly used in:

  • pipework
  • insulation
  • wall coverings and flooring
  • interior fittings
  • window frames
  • scaffolding boards
  • kerbstones

Common sources of plastic waste

The main causes of plastic waste include:

  • packaging (around 25 per cent of construction packaging waste)
  • over ordering and disposal of off-cuts and unused materials
  • over-specified project design
  • poor storage and handling
  • site workers' food packaging

Recycling options for plastic

A range of plastics can be recycled including:

  • polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • high density polyethylene (HDPE)
  • low density polyethylene (LDPE)
  • polypropylene (PP)
  • polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • polystyrene
  • ABS (a copolymer of acrylonitrile, butadiene and styrene) polymers

However, there are some barriers to recycling plastic, particularly the related financial costs. For example:

  • transportation costs - plastics are bulky and expensive to transport and store
  • separation costs - different varieties of plastic and mixed plastics contain different dyes and additives which produce poor quality recyclate unless separated
  • it can be cheaper and easier to use new plastic rather than recycled plastic
  • plastic can only be recycled once

Making changes to your site operations

You can make simple yet effective changes to your site's operations to reduce plastic waste and allow more to be recycled by:

  • separating plastic waste made of different polymers to reduce contamination
  • providing staff with training in handling
  • recovering materials and not sending to landfill
  • improving transport procedures
  • improving design - eg plastic pipe networks can be designed to use as few fittings as possible

Potential end uses for recovered plastic

Recovered plastic can be used in construction for damp proof membrane, drainage pipes, ducting and flooring. It can also be used in many other applications including:

  • as a filler (thermoset plastics)
  • packaging
  • landscaping - eg walkways, jetties, pontoons, bridges, fences and signs
  • textile fibre and clothing - polyester fleece clothing and polyester filling for duvets and coats is frequently made from recycled bottles
  • street furniture - eg seating, bins, street signs and planters
  • bin liners and refuse sacks
  • traffic management products and industrial strapping

You can find licensed waste sites to recycle or dispose of plastic.