Recycled Plastics in Construction

Oct 14, 2020 | Sustainable Spotlight

Approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans each day. Plastic is an extremely valuable resource, however, plastic pollution is an unsustainable waste of that resource. Here are 10 ways to use recycled plastics in construction materials, building, and more!

1. Concrete

in 2018, researchers from Bath University in the UK found that some of the sand used in concrete can be substituted with plastic waste, which could lead to more sustainable construction and less plastic in landfills. 

A year earlier, students at MIT found that mixing pulverized flakes of plastic powder into cement paste produces concrete that is up to 15% stronger than traditional concrete. By first exposing the plastic to gamma radiation, the material’s structure changed in a way that stiffened the plastic to form more solid concrete.

2. Indoor Insulation

Up to 60% of the energy used in buildings is from heating and cooling needs. By utilizing plastic in insulation, buildings can be made more efficient and reduce the amount of energy used. 

In addition to saving money on heating and cooling costs, using recycled plastic as insulation is also cost-effective in production, as it takes less energy to transform plastic into insulation than it does to create conventional insulation materials.

3. Roofing

Plastic roofing material has become increasingly available in the past few years and looks very similar to many other popular roofing tile choices while remaining eco-friendly. 

Plastic roof tiles also help cancel out unwanted noise and are resistant to frequent temperature changes, a must when building in Michigan!

4. PVC Windows

PVC windows are made primarily from plastics with frames that are 100% recyclable. They last up to 40 years and have the same insulation quality as regular plastic. 

According to Recycling Magazine, ‘a cycle of window use and recovery can be repeated seven times without negative effects on raw materials or processing quality.’

5. Structural Lumber

Using recycled plastic as an alternative to steel in structural lumber makes it unnecessary to spray toxic preservatives on wood to protect it from the elements. 

The end result is a product that does not require staining or painting, does not rot or splinter, and has a long life expectancy with low maintenance.

6. Floor Tiles

Vinyl tile, vinyl planks, and plastic-composite laminate flooring are all great choices for residential and commercial buildings, as they are easy to install, can mimic real wood or other materials, and are extremely affordable.

Plastic-composite flooring decreases sound, a benefit to high traffic areas in an office space or other commercial buildings, and is easy to clean.

7. Ceiling Tiles

PVC ceiling tiles and panels are highly durable and easy to install and maintain and can be made with 98% recycled plastic from some manufacturers. 

They can be an acoustical and lightweight option for commercial and residential builders alike, and when done correctly, the process to utilize recycled plastic for these tiles can produce zero waste.

8. Carpeting

Most carpeting is already made from plastic fibers like nylon, polyester, and polypropylene, and using recycled plastic isn’t much different.

Recycled plastic carpeting fibers are often even more stain-resistant than other materials, and produce fewer emissions than using un-recycled plastic. 

9. Fences

Using recycled plastic for fencing can be very beneficial when a client wants a fence that looks like wood without the detriments of wood aging or rotting.

Plastic fencing won’t absorb moisture from rain, snow, or other forms of precipitation, making the maintenance of this product easier and it will last longer.

10. Bricks

By recycling plastic into LEGO-like bricks, builders can create an entire structure with recycled plastic. The bricks are fire-resistant and also resistant to earthquakes since they are made of plastic. 

Multiple companies around the world have already bgeun creating different kinds of plastic bricks to use for construction, with one company in Taipei using their method to create large entertainment buildings completely with plastic bricks.

Recycled plastic can be low cost, easy to install when used in interiors such as floor and ceiling tiles, and can even make some buildings more structurally sound. Low environmental impact, reducing energy consumption, and getting plastic out of landfills are all great reasons to think about using recycled plastic in the design and construction of your next building. 

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