How can we make plastic-free a habit in construction?
New environmental policies to tackle water and air quality, plastics and nature
Last week at the State Opening of parliament, The Queens Speech detailed government intentions to make environmental principles law. As a result of this, the environment is now front and centre stage. Therefore, new policies will tackle water and air quality, plastics, and nature.
Since Blue Planet, shocking images of waste and plastic filling our oceans has become fixed in the public consciousness. The need to tackle this issue across all sectors is a huge talking point. Crucially, the construction sector has a significant role to play.
The role of the construction sector in plastic-free action
Estimates indicate the construction sector is the second-highest producer of plastics, after the packaging industry. 50,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste is produced annually, with 3.7 million tonnes in the UK. A sectoral approach is a must. I also believe everyone has a responsibility to make plastic-free a habit.
Creating daily habits is key
Habits are the small decisions you make and the actions you perform every day. According to researchers, habits account for about 40 per cent of our behaviours on any given day.
In fact, there are three ways to make a habit stick:
- Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behaviour)
- Routine (the behaviour itself; the action you take)
- Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behaviour).
Last year, I committed to taking action to going plastic-free. Simple things built into our everyday lives to make them a habit – and everyday behaviour is easily achievable. My new habits include using a reusable water bottle, coffee cup, and shopping bag. Using plastic-free alternatives in the bathroom is easily achieved too. We also no longer use plastic straws and always keep plastic-free in mind when shopping.
Plastic is such a huge part of our society. It touches most aspects of our lives, whether that’s as consumers or as businesses. However, taking action either yourself or as a business is absolutely key.
As the consumer demand for businesses to be more sustainable and use less plastic grows, businesses who aren’t already doing so will be forced to take action.
A bigger commitment from the built environment is necessary
Since the launch of Blue Planet, we have seen companies from Starbucks and McDonalds, Unilever, DHL and KPMG make pledges to either reduce or eliminate packaging from their products and services.
However, the commitment from the built environment is lacking, given its significant contribution to the plastics waste issue.
To date, there are notable commitments from the Canary Wharf Group, which announced in 2018 that it would be the first plastic-free commercial centre. Mace is also launching its “Time to Act” campaign to eliminate single-use plastics from its business.
Taking personal action
Personal action is key, but so is leadership and commitment from the sector. It can for some smaller companies feel like an overwhelming task. Yet, there are some small steps that companies can take to begin their journey to reduce plastic usage across sites.
- Ensuring canteens on sites use real plates and cutlery and compostable take away cartons
- Using glass milk bottles instead of plastic bottles
- Providing your workforce with sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic and coffee cups
- Engaging with your supply chain to provide packaging that has a high recycled content, or provide an alternative to plastic packaging
The CIP Environmental Manual
This manual provides site teams with best practice and ideas to eliminate plastic waste in the construction process. You can subscribe now at https://www.cip-books.com/product-category/environment/environmental-manual/
There is also some guidance and best practice examples from the CCS, which can be found at https://ccsbestpractice.org.uk.
The pace of transformation in the industry
The pace is accelerating alongside the demand for businesses to be more sustainable. As the industry focuses increasingly on modular and off-site construction, this also presents a key opportunity for reducing waste during the construction process. WRAP has estimated that a 90% waste reduction can be achieved using off-site construction methods.
Whether through voluntary actions now or legal requirements in the future, the construction sector must look to tackle its contribution to the plastic waste agenda.
Taking small actions to create daily habits is key. Talking to suppliers, educating your workforce and setting a good example also goes a long way.