Promoting plastics recycling in the construction sector

2.6 million tonnes of plastics consumed every year

verschiedene Baumaterialien, wie Steine und Fenster, getrennt voneinander gelagertClick to enlarge
More sustainability in construction sector calls for building products to be durable and recycled.
Source: HildaWeges / Essentials Kollektion / iStockphoto

The construction sector is the second-largest consumer of plastics with a volume of some 2.6 million tonnes used in 2017. However, proper guidelines for the recycling of plastic building products are still lacking, and recycling volumes are not recorded adequately. These are the findings of a recent study by the German Environment Agency (UBA). To ensure recycling of the accumulating quantities to a high standard in the future, UBA proposes that construction product standards be supplemented with specifications regarding durability, recyclability and use of recyclates. Better separate collection of plastic waste for recycling is needed: at present, it is often only disposed of as mixed construction waste. The recycling of sector-specific packaging is a further aim.

The study makes the following proposals:

Products: The European Construction Products Regulation (EU) No. 305/2011 provides for sustainability to be measurable by standards. ⁠UBA⁠ supports the implementation of such important goals through the establishment of better product standards, for example through a requirement to increase recyclates use. Pipes and pipe systems – whose annual consumption of one million tons represents the greatest share of plastic building products used – do not have sufficient volumes of recyclates available to meet demand.

Wastes: Construction and demolition waste must be collected separately, which is often not the case at present. Plastics (waste code: 170203) are all too often disposed of together with mixed construction and demolition waste (waste code: 170904). One problem with the current regulations is that insulation materials made of plastic have to be collected together with glass and rock wool, which are completely different in terms of material. UBA proposes their collection together with plastics in future. Building products packaging, in contrast, is not construction and demolition waste and must be recycled in accordance with the provisions of the Packaging Act, even if there is no system participation obligation under the Packaging Act in the context of a pure business-to-business transaction. It is too often that packaging still ends up in construction waste.

Packaging: The construction sector proves to be quite progressive when it comes to packaging avoidance. It has a high share of unpackaged goods and various reuse systems for packaging, e.g. pallets and crates. Any plastic packaging that remains in use is excellently suited for use in recycled form. A recyclate use rate of 30% seems to be technically feasible and should become mandatory in the medium-term by applying a corresponding recyclate quota.