The responsibility of recycling

With the construction industry having a vital role to play in turning the tide on the UK’s environmental impact, it is important electrical contractors do their bit too. Jon Chamberlain, Sales Director at Marshall-Tufflex, discusses how a meaningful impact can be made with ease.

The construction industry is one of the largest contributors to waste in the UK, creating approximately 120 million tonnes (almost 60% of all UK waste) from construction, demolition and excavation each year – with 25 million tonnes of this sent to landfill.

With the devastating impact landfill has on the environment, this is an unacceptable figure and one the entire industry must take responsibility for. According to a report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in October 2018, urgent changes are required to tackle climate change – and this must be done within the next decade, before the damage is irreversible.

In October 2019, the government introduced a new bill that addresses key environmental issues to lower carbon emissions, improve air quality, manage waste and optimise the use of resources. Specifically mentioned is a move towards a circular economy, and this is where the construction industry could have a major impact.

Every little helps, and the sustainability of products at any level should be considered – and this includes the environmental credentials of cable management solutions.

A greener alternative

Understanding the ‘cradle to grave’ impact of a product is crucial to making a more environmentally responsible purchasing decision – and within the cable management sector, a product’s impact is largely down to the origin of the PVC-U used within manufacture.

To put this into context, in a study undertaken by the University of Manchester, a PVC-U window using recycled content offers a 20-fold reduction in embodied carbon, compared to products manufactured with virgin plastic.

It’s therefore no surprise that environmentally conscious cable management manufacturers have been seeking ways to introduce more recycled content into their own production processes. For example, Marshall-Tufflex has invested in a compounder machine, which alongside post-industrial waste (waste and off-cuts from PVC-U window production) can also process post-consumer waste (from PVC-U windows removed from buildings at the end of their lives). This enables them to manufacturer PVC-U conduit and trunking systems with an average of 80% recycled content – with some using 100% recycled material.

This increased use of recycled material within the manufacturing process prevents the equivalent in weight of 300 double decker buses of PVC-U going to landfill each year.

If other manufacturers that used PVC-U in the production process took this stance, it would have a huge positive impact on the environmental performance of the sector – however, realistically this cannot happen unless the demand is there. Electrical contractors therefore have a substantial role to play by considering the recycled content of the products they specify, championing the environmental benefits.

No compromise on quality

There is the widespread myth that a ‘greener’ alternative might mean a decline in quality and durability – and this simply isn’t true.

By using post-industrial and post-consumer waste from PVC-U window frames in the production process, the products benefit from an increased robustness, as the grade of PVC-U had originally been designed to withstand external elements.

Additional rigorous quality control processes will also ensure a high quality, gloss finish, so each product will look great and there will be the guarantee of colour consistency throughout the project. If a product does not meet the stringent standards required, it can simply be recycled back into chips and undergo further refinement and processing, to re-enter the production process.

REACH for standards

Electrical contractors should also be aware of, and specify products from, manufacturers who meet Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals (REACH) standards, which concerns the production and its use of chemicals and their impact on both the environment and human health.

In addition, the ISO 14001 Environmental Management Accreditation demonstrates that manufacturers have taken steps to reduce their impact on the environment throughout their business.

Calculating the benefits

It is crucial to increase supply and demand by supporting manufacturers who are totally transparent about the recycled content in its products, and its recycling initiative.

Marshall-Tufflex, which boasts an award-winning Reassuringly Recycled campaign, recognised the need for transparent specification. As such, the business has introduced free online tools, such as the Recycled PVC-U Calculator, to accurately illustrate how much recycled content is used in the products specified, and how much PVC-U in kilograms will be saved from going to landfill.

It is clear that everyone has a responsibility to prevent further damage to the environment, with the construction industry in particular primed to make a significant impact. By making informed specifications and supporting manufacturers who are vocal about their environmental commitments, the difference would be huge.

This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of ECN.

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