Innovation27 October 2022

How to increase recycling on construction sites

The UK’s construction sector is the second largest consumer of plastic in the UK, producing annually, 50,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste.The SMI Hub is supporting EMERGE Recycling (Emerge) an award-winning social enterprise that provides a wide range of commercial recycling and waste service, as part of a research collaboration with Morgan Sindall, to look for opportunities to increase their plastic recycling operations through collections from construction sites.

It’s estimated that around 40% of construction plastic ends up in landfill. Typically, plastic waste is disposed of in mixed waste skips, which are difficult to separate and causes contamination of the plastics, causing them to be less recyclable. Whilst plastic is a vital building material, single-use plastic waste is problematic and can be avoided or reduced in the following areas:

  • Plastic packaging
  • Unused material from over-ordering and offcuts
  • Improper storage and handling
  • Over-specified project design
  • Workforce food packaging and utensils

In collaboration with Emerge Recycling, the SMI Hub conducted a pilot scheme for sorting & collecting plastic waste from one site, at the National Squash Centre, which will become the House of Sport on the Etihad Campus. The Hub used use its polymer science expertise and equipment to identify construction plastics that could be collected by Emerge from Morgan Sindall construction sites, providing insight into the types of plastics, market value, and end-of-life fate using current recycling infrastructure. This pilot could act as a stepping stone to a future longer term collaboration, in which new business models for construction plastic waste can be explored through further research with a long term aim to creating circular closed material loops.

At the beginning of the pilot, a 660L bin marked up as “Plastics only” was dropped off at the House of Sport site. The site was at late phase of construction, to maximise potential collection of plastics. The bin was left in place for a week, after which the SMI Hub team collected it to sort through the plastics at Emerge’s site in Openshaw, with the sort aligning with the One Bin to Rule Them All research project’s methodology.

The data collected will now be analysed to understand the composition of the waste plastics collected. In addition, further conversations with reprocessors of plastics will be occurring over the next few months to understand the current fate of these materials and viability of scaling this trial up to more sites over a longer timeframe.

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Poppy Robinson

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