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Mace's pitch to solve construction's plastic problem

Isabel McAllister

The construction sector has a plastic problem.

More than 300m tonnes of plastic waste now litter the world’s oceans, risking the disruption and decline of the delicate ecosystem that supports so much life across the globe. But what does plastic in the ocean have to do with UK construction sites?

Turns out the answer is: quite a lot. Construction is the second-largest producer of single-use plastics in the UK, beaten only by the packaging industry.

That waste builds up in waste transfer sites or gets shipped overseas, and then plastic wrapping – originally used to ship cladding from Hamburg to London – ultimately can end up floating in the oceans and threatening marine life.

New mindset

Plastic itself isn’t bad. In fact, we need to be careful with our messaging. The construction sector benefits hugely from use of durable plastic products such as insulation, mastic and flooring.

What needs to develop is a new mindset across our workforces, empowered to identify unsustainable uses of plastics.

“If we want to be an industry that doesn’t unduly damage the environment, we need a wholesale attitude shift”

Modular and offsite construction offer a huge opportunity to change the way we use materials and reduce the waste we generate. Even smaller objects, like drinking water cups, can have a huge cumulative impact and so offer a way to make a genuine difference through small changes.

On our construction sites alone we use tens of millions of plastic water and coffee cups a year. If we can change employee behaviour here we can show people the power they have to make other positive changes.

Time to Act

Across Mace, our staff are more engaged around single-use plastic reduction. We have launched a single-use plastic reduction campaign across the business, called Time to Act, which encourages people to ditch unnecessary plastics.

We hope it will encourage our staff to spot other opportunities where a responsible business can reduce waste, improve sustainability outcomes and ultimately deliver a big benefit to the bottom line.

To date, we have already reduced our corporate plastic consumption by more than 50 per cent, a process that has included phasing out all uses of disposable plastics entirely from our head office in London. 

Behaviour change on this scale is hard, but if we want to be an industry that doesn’t unduly damage the environment, we need a wholesale attitude shift.

Plastic waste represents one way of unlocking that change. The question is: can we grasp the opportunity?

Isabel McAllister is head of responsible business at Mace

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