Category Archives: sustainability

Recent Reading Online

This is the first in a regular series covering pieces I have been reading online that I think are worthy of further sharing. Followers on twitter, linkedin and to a lesser degree on Instgram will be aware that I regularly share items relating to sustainability, the built environment and our relationship with the outdoors and nature. However posts there can be flitting and often difficult to track down and return to. They will hopefully have a longer life here.

Articles, papers and images that catch my eye, or as a result of a search I move into my ever growing Instapaper (and occasionally Evernote) Library. This enables me to read offline, and importantly to keep and or return to for reference: here are a few recents:

Sustainability

Patagonia is in business to save our home planet  For the past 45 years, Patagonia has been a business at the cutting edge of environmental activism, sustainable supply chains, and advocacy for public lands and the outdoors. Its mission has long been “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”But for Yvon Chouinard, that’s not enough. So this week, the 80-year-old company founder and Marcario informed employees that the company’s mission statement has changed to something more direct, urgent, and crystal clear: “Patagonia is in business to save our home planet.”

Chasing the Sun by Linda Geddes review – why we don’t get enough natural light. Guardian review of Linda Geddes book exploring the importance of sunlight and circadian rhythms for our wellbeing. Chasing the sun is an interesting insight to add to the current interest in biophilia thinking.

Ten lessons for embedding sustainability across the business Sue Garrard, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership Senior associate and Unilever’s former EVP Sustainable Business, was responsible for leading and embedding the company’s ambitious USLP (the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan) into the business and ensuring progress against its 70-plus time bound targets. Here she provides 10 lessons for embedding sustainability across the business.

To get to a circular economy we have to change not just the cup, but the culture. Lloyd Alter explores the circular economy in the ‘coffee delivery system’ from the CE 3 principles (to Design out waste and pollution, to Keep products and materials in use, and to Regenerate Natural Systems)


Image food for thought: Disturbing images like this emphasis the need for urgency in our sustainability actions. The Pastoruri glacier, part of the Cordillera Blanca.

Built Environment

Net Gain: A developer’s commitment to enhancing biodiversity. Natural England blog from Louise Clarke, Head of Sustainable Places at Berkeley Group, outlining the organisation’s approach to biodiversity net gain

Manchester commits to making all new buildings ‘net-zero’ by 2028. Edie Article: The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has pledged to ensure that all new buildings erected in the city region will be ‘net-zero’ carbon by 2028

Concrete responsible for 8 per cent of all CO2 emissions. Research by the think tank Chatham House underlines the need for drastic changes in the production and use of concrete, the world’s most used man-made material, because of the way in which cement is made.

Outdoors / Nature

Plantwatch: is sphagnum the most underrated plant on Earth? Sphagnum is probably the most underrated plant on Earth. This humble little moss makes up the bulk of our peat bogs and holds up to 20 times its weight in water. That makes boglands huge sponges that store water, slowing its flow and helping prevent flooding downstream.

What I’ve Been Reading Online Recently. Chris Townsend’s blog that inspired this approach to reshaping what I have been reading.

Image food for thought: Human Modification v Ecological Integrity. Shared at #Rewilding2019

The Search for England’s Forgotten Footpaths.  Article by Sam Knight in The New Yorker on our English footpaths “The Countryside and Rights of Way Act created a new “right to roam” on common land, opening up three million acres of mountains and moor, heath and down, to cyclists, climbers, and dog walkers. It also set an ambitious goal: to record every public path crisscrossing England and Wales by January 1, 2026”

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Into 2019 …

Business as Usual Sustainability (BAUS)

Business as Usual Sustainability may well prove to be our barrier in addressing the climate change issues we face. To only ‘sustain’ is no longer enough, we now have a real urgency to embrace regenerative sustainability, to thrive … and to enable thriving.

The last three decades have given us many opportunities to embrace sustainability, but have only done so reluctantly and given the worsening CO2, air quality and health issues associated with our buildings, inadequately. So now the options available to us are increasingly radical and of necessity transformative.

The recent 2018 IPCC report has given us 12 years to avoid a painful climate breakdown and the risk of irreversibly destabilising the Earth’s climate. If we are to meet the targets in front of us, related to the 2015 Paris Agreement, the SDG’s and here at home in the UK Built Environment with our CO2 reduction by 2025 targets, we need to move way beyond Business as Usual Sustainability …

The report confirmed that we must take widespread changes to design, construction, maintenance and re-use of buildings. It reinforces buildings account for 40% of CO2 emissions with building materials such as cement and concrete accounting for some 8% of the global figure.  In essence this would require no construction, building, industry, plant or vehicles using gas, oil, coal or fossil fuels; a building products sector converted to green natural products and / or non-toxic chemistry; and heavy industries like cement, steel and aluminum production either using carbon-free energy sources or not used in buildings.

Further, the construction and use of buildings will by necessity need to be positive, not passive, neutral or negative – sequestering and capturing more carbon than emitted, generating more energy than used, improving air quality rather than polluting and improving inhabitants wellbeing rather than contributing to health problems.

The best time to start radically reducing carbon was 30 years ago, the second best time is to start today.

Its time to step up.

We can do this.

The Paris 1.5 aspiration is still within our reach – just! Thankfully the 2018 IPCC report does contain at least one positive, and that is anthropogenic emissions up now are unlikely to cause further warming of more than 0.5°C over the next two to three decades or on a century time scale.

This means that, if we stop using fossil fuels today, the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that have already been released into the atmosphere to date are not likely to warm the earth the additional 0.5°C, either by 2030, or 2050, or even by 2100.

No doubt you have read many end of 2018, start of 2019 sustainable lifestyle things we can do – from eating less meat, cycling not driving, avoiding fossil fuel energy – and these are all good, and things we should be doing. But we can do more, and in the built environment we can make significant and meaningful progress in, for example:

Educate and Advocate
As individuals, as organisations and as a sector we must educate and advocate. Many of those entering the design and construction sector over the next twelve years are still in education (many at primary school and have a whole secondary and university education in front of them)They need to be inspired and motivated for a built environment that will be radically different to the one we have today.

Reverse the Performance Gap
The performance gap between design and actual causes unnecessary co2 emissions. As with the Living Building Challenge, let’s make award of any sustainable standard only on achievement of or bettering of the agreed design intent. Perhaps planning should only be given, or priority given to buildings that positively make a contribution – on carbon, water, or air quality. A challenge for Building Regulations and Planning requirements to step up.

Grow from Thousands to Billions
Trees: “Our planet’s future climate is inextricably tied to the future of its forests,” states the 2018 IPCC report, calling for billions of trees to be planted and protected. We have the skills, materials and mindsets to design, construct and maintain buildings that function as trees. Perhaps the flagship here is the Bullitt centre, but we have thousands of buildings around the world that have regenerative attributes. Building on the title of the 2018 World Green Building Council report we can ramp this up from Thousands to Billions – to all buildings.

Monarch Butterfly (selected as cover image for FutuREstorative)

FutuREgenerative

In 2016, FutuREstorative sought to set out what a new sustainability could look like, moving thinking in the built environment from the ‘reducing harm’ sustainability business as usual approach to one that is restorative, regenerative with a connected worldview. working with natural systems, healing harm done in the past.

I must admit I shied away from using the word regenerative in the title of the 2016 edition. Within the UK regenerative has had an uncomfortable meaning, associated with ‘building schools for the future’ and other less successful programmes. As a Project Manager for a regeneration programme in East Lancashire, I saw first hand, just how uncomfortable the ‘regeneration’ label sat with local communities and the wider sustainability agendas.

I am delighted that FutuREstorative has been adopted by many practices (it has inspired at least two start-ups that I know of here in the UK), is being translated into Portuguese and has been adopted by academic organisations around the world. It has also provided the backbone for the EU COST RESTORE programme.

However, and thankfully, the world of sustainability has moved on a-pace, much has progressed from 2016, (Paris, SDG’s, IPCC and WWF reports) Increasingly we hear much more, and are seeing more examples of regenerative sustainability and ecologically principled design in relation to our buildings,  And this includes regenerative buildings that are designed to heal people and planet.  I see this as part of what Daniel Wahl refers to as ‘regeneration rising’ but are far from reaching a tipping point.

So, into 2019, my plans are to …

update FutuREstorative, reframing and possibly re-titling as FutuREgenerative to reflect current regenerative activities globally and pushing our thinking further. Over the coming weeks I will be collating regenerative stories and looking for blog style contributions from those at the sharp end of regenerative sustainability, within the built environment and beyond

further support and enable the communities of practice and discussion groups that have emerged and are growing around FutuREstorative 

If you would like to get involved in sharing your stories and experience through FutuREstorative communities of practice then please do reach out.

Together we can do this …

Carbon is not the enemy …

From my series of Specifi blog posts that pick up on discussions following my presentations there … 

At the Cardiff Design event, slides and comments on rethinking and reimagining carbon carbon prompted much conversation over the networking drinks. 

If we are to address climate change, avoid climate breakdown, cap global temperature increase to 1.5 and to face up to the IPCC 2018 Report warnings, then only reducing carbon from buildings and construction will not be enough, we need to think different think bigger, think regenerative.

Reimagining Carbon in the Built Environment

And, so, if we are to make sustainability really attractive we have to balance the challenge of reversing global warming and, simultaneously, deliver economic prosperity for our sector and those that use our buildings

We have the tools, thinking and approaches to create buildings that are regenerative, to function as trees, to function as energy generators, and as carbon sequesters. Buildings that are part of the solution not the problem.

Imagine our buildings self-generating heating and cooling, or create it using power from renewable sources that are connected to a smart grid to optimise energy use.

Our buildings themselves are constructed from materials that take carbon dioxide from the air and lock it up for decades, even centuries, (250 years in the case of the Bullitt Center that features in my presentations).

Within this new built environment are living, biodiverse ecosystems, used for food production, recreation, water filtration, temperature control, and importantly our health, which draw carbon from the atmosphere down into the soil, and living eco systems.

Reimagining our sectors Carbon Footprint

Following the specify Cardiff event, I flew out to Vilnius in Lithuania to present a keynote at the Lithuanian Green Build Council Conference. It is extremely encouraging that the same conversations are taking place across Europe with built environment architects, contractors, engineers, facilities managers, product manufacturers and investors

We are starting to rethink sustainability, moving from just ‘sustaining’ to ‘thriving’ and embracing the new normal.

BREEAM and LEED Partnership announced.

Over recent years the built environment sustainability agenda has shifted away from being primarily concerned with energy and resource efficiency, towards a sustainability that now firmly embraces people and planetary health. This was the core message behind the ‘working towards a new sustainability’ strap line to FutuREstorative

It isn’t completely surprising then, in breaking news at GreenBuild18 Chicago, BRE and USGBC have announced a partnership to ‘highlight the role that buildings can play in improving environmental, economic and health outcomes and positively impact the quality of life, ultimately leading to a higher standard of living for everyone on the planet’ and to ‘deliver a new industry approach to green building performance, solutions and benchmarking’  

It is possible that the combined power of the two leading green building certification programs – LEED and BREEAM – will help power a new way forward, yet the built environment will continue to need the collaboration with other schemes such as LBC, Well, Building with Nature, DNGB etc. 

Advocacy as important as Certification

For three decades we have hidden behind a sustainability definition of doing nothing today to compromise tomorrows generation. Had we remained true to that Brundtland vision from 1987, we would not be in the climate breakdown scenarios we now face. And whilst, arguably certification programmes have contributed to advancing built environment sustainability, this is only within a small percentage of the huge number of global buildings. It is the ‘other’ buildings (in what I called the long tail of construction in FutuREstorative) that for many reasons will or can not pursue certification, need to embrace the thinking, principles and approaches of sustainability programmes within the design and construction practice, irrespective of certification. 

USGBC / BRE Group Press Release:

USGBC and BRE partnership first of its kind for green building industry

CHICAGO – (Nov. 13, 2018) – The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the BRE Group (BRE) have announced a partnership that will promote the expertise of both organizations and harness their combined industry insights, to deliver a new industry approach to green building performance, solutions and benchmarking.

USGBC and BRE will highlight the role that buildings can play in improving environmental, economic and health outcomes and positively impact the quality of life, ultimately leading to a higher standard of living for everyone on the planet. Their joint vision is to create a better environment that’s cleaner, more efficient, more sustainable and fully meets the world’s current and future urbanization needs.

“USGBC and BRE have led the green building community for nearly two decades,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president & CEO, USGBC. “But there is still much work that needs to be done, and the stakes have never been higher. This collaboration allows us to further leverage our tools and resources to scale up reductions in carbon emissions associated with buildings and accelerate on all fronts.”

The objectives that USGBC and BRE will immediately pursue and explore are to:

  • Increase the level of engagement of existing buildings in the measurement, reporting and improvement of their environmental, social and wellbeing impact.
  • Embrace a digital strategy that will raise our combined technological capabilities and establish industry-wide common data standards and protocols, to make our platforms simpler, smarter and more intelligent.
  • Conduct research to identify future transformation opportunities to improve the sustainability credentials of the world’s buildings, communities and cities.

“BRE is the world’s leading building science center,” said Niall Trafford, CEO, BRE Group. “We have been at the forefront of developing knowledge and standards for almost 100 years. We sponsor and conduct research which continually improves productivity, quality, environmental performance, safety and well-being in the built environment. Our mission is to build a better world together and this partnership will enable us to substantially extend our reach and impact around the world. Now is a critical time to act. BRE and USGBC are building the future. What we can do together is truly strong than anything we do alone.”

Today, LEED and BREEAM are the two most widely used green building programs in the world. Collectively they have certified the assessments of over 640,000 buildings across more than 126,000 commercial, residential, infrastructure, community and city projects in 167 countries and territories. To-date there are more than 167,000 projects registered to LEED and BREEAM and collectively both programs help form one of the largest industry networks focused on delivering a better outcome for our built and natural environment.

“As the world’s global green building leaders, USGBC and BRE share not only a common vision, but also a responsibility to keep moving the market forward,” added Ramanujam. “The amount of work we need to mitigate climate change and realize a sustainable future for all cannot be done by any single organization. In order to truly make an impact, we need all hands on deck and the combined power of the two leading green building certification programs – LEED and BREEAM – to help power a new way forward.”

The collaboration will also leverage USGBC and BRE’s combined market knowledge, partnerships and collective tools through LEED, BREEAM and other rating systems to address all sectors: new and existing commercial buildings, new and existing homes, infrastructure, landscape, power, waste and finance.

Building Industry driving toxic Chlorine and PVC production.

This is why we have Red Lists and transparency programmes such as Declare and material verification schemes such as EPD, REACH, Cradle to Cradle etc …

All people and the planet thrive when the environment is free of toxic chemicals (*)

We talk of sustainable procurement, of healthy buildings, of greater transparency in what we specify and procure and of eliminating toxic materials from construction but, as the recently published Healthy Building Network overview of the global Chlorine and PVC markets demonstrates, we have a long way to go – and its scary. (Part One of the HBN report covers North and South America, Africa, and Europe, with Part Two later this year covering Asia and Rest of the World)

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As the HBN notes:

  • Chlorine is inherently highly toxic.
  • Chlorine production uses and releases mercury, asbestos, or other highly toxic pollutants. (Mercury use has significantly declined, but the US still imports 480 tons of asbestos per year for diaphragms, primarily from Russia.)
  • Combining chlorine with carbon-based materials creates environmental health impacts that are difficult if not impossible to solve.

And, it is the the building sector is propping up a ‘toxic’ chlorine and PVC global market … 

Market data indicate that, as many industrial uses of chlorine decline due to environmental health concerns, market de-selection, and stricter regulations, the market share of chlorine used in PVC and certain other products has increased. Today, most of the chlorine produced in the world is used to make four plastics: PVC, epoxies, polycarbonate, and polyurethane.

PVC contains nearly 60% chlorine by weight, and most PVC is manufactured for use in building products. Indeed, chlorine and building industry analysts agree that because building trends drive PVC demand, and PVC demand drives chlorine production, it can fairly be said that the building-products industry drives chlorine production levels and its attendant environmental and human health impacts.

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Chlorine Production Technologies

There are four industrial processes that can be used to create chlorine gas. The oldest technologies use either mercury or asbestos. The two newer technologies (introduced in the 1970s) use diaphragms or membranes coated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Most chlorine produced in Europe and Africa comes from PFAS-coated membrane technology. The main chlor- alkali producers in Africa do not use mercury cells or asbestos diaphragms. In Europe, exemptions to regulations that otherwise prohibit asbestos and mercury-based technologies allow the largest chlor-alkali plant to continue to use asbestos, and at least five other locations will continue using mercury into the foreseeable future.

Approximately 45% of chlorine production capacity in the Americas, including 8 of the 12 largest plants in operation, use asbestos diaphragms. Seven of these 8 are located on the US Gulf Coast. The other is in Brazil, which is phasing out asbestos mining. The US plants have relied upon Brazilian asbestos and soon will depend upon asbestos mined in Russia.

Chlorine-Based Pollution:

While all petroleum-based products are associated with industrial pollution, the introduction of chlorine and chlorine-based substances adds an additional pollution burden that is uniquely associated with chlorine.

This begins with the manufacturing of the chlorine itself. Over 400 tons of chlorine gas are released per year by chlor-alkali facilities in the US and Canada. Asbestos and mercury releases are well documented from the plants employing those antiquated technologies, which pollute the environment and poison people throughout the lifecycle, from mining, to distribution, to use, and finally, to recycling or disposal operations.

… “forever chemicals”

The more modern technologies employ machinery coated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are highly toxic and long-lived chemicals that are coming under increasing scrutiny. The Harvard School of Public Health has issued warnings about these “forever chemicals” as used in consumer products such as Teflon, and as stain and water repellents on carpeting and upholstery. Because PFAS are not regulated at the point of use at chlorine manufacturing plants, there are no reported PFAS emissions or waste. However, PFAS have been detected in the effluent from the main US manufacturer of membranes used in chlorine plants.

… the additional burden of PVC production

The use of chlorine for PVC production creates additional burdens, generating organochlorine waste and by products. These chemicals are not broken down by natural systems, and typically last for generations in the environment. Many of them also build up in the ecosystem, including fish, wildlife, and humans, and are toxic at low doses. In addition to polluting the local environment near the facilities that release them, these chemicals can also be transported around the globe. One of them, carbon tetrachloride, is an ozone-depleting chemical and potent global-warming gas.

Additionally, PVC plastic production plays a role in the growing concern about microplastic ocean pollution through the factory discharge of PVC resins, in the form of small plastic pellets, into waterways.

Moving Forward: “When we know better, we can do better”

While environmentalists, building owners, architects and designers, and building-product manufacturers differ in their opinions on the avoidance of PVC, there is widespread and growing support for the elimination of mercury and asbestos from the supply chain of PVC and other chlorine-based products. A public global inventory of chlorine and VCM producers, and associated documented pollution, is a necessary first step for taking action.

HBN is providing this report, and accompanying online materials, spreadsheets, and map, as full open-access content. This data can help manufacturers to avoid chemicals derived from toxic technologies, scientists to fill gaps in understanding on the material flow of pollutants like PFAS and carbon tetrachloride, and communities to connect with others who, like them, face daily pollution from the chlorine and PVC industry.


(*) HBN Vision: All people and the planet thrive when the environment is free of toxic chemicals

The HBN Report can be downloaded and read from here. 

See also the excellent Lloyd Alter detailed article in TreeHugger:

Report from Healthy Building Network slams PVC production

Making vinyl and other plastics releases dangerous pollutants. Do they belong in green buildings?

PVC, often called vinyl, has long been controversial in the sustainable design and green building worlds. It’s red-listed in the Living Building Challenge and the Cradle to Cradle certification system, and the attempt by the LEED people to limit its use in buildings almost brought down the whole certification system.

Pushing beyond Paris

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The UN Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) meets in San Francisco, California from 12-14 September 2018, and in addition to the physical meeting, actors around the world are invited to participate by demonstrating the depth and range of climate action in their sectors and geographies to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

This raises the question what have we done in the (business, regional, national and global) built environment to contribute to the Paris Change Agreement. The ILFI through Living Building Challenge is one of the few building standards that seek to meet the Paris Agreement, and One Planet Living through its alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Yet we no longer have the luxury of only less bad is not good enough and as is becoming increasingly obvious, meeting the Paris targets may not be enough, and ‘good’ is now looking way beyond the 1.5 DegC aspirational targets.

The UK Construction 2025 Vision, launched in 2013, set a target of 50% reductions in built environment carbon emissions by 2025. Indications are that we are far from achieving this. (A 2015 BRE analysis showed that BREEAM assessed buildings achieve an average 22% reduction in CO2 emissions). We only have a handful of projects setting real carbon reduction targets. Yet we know we will have to improve on the 50% and get to 80 percent by 2033 if we are to meet the 1.5 degree target .

Better technology and design alone will not get us there without a shift towards a worldview thinking, that embraces regenerative system approaches, and sees the built environment within the context of wider ecological systems.

The California Summit is focused on taking ambition to the next level through five key issue areas: healthy energy systems, inclusive economic growth, sustainable communities, land and ocean stewardship and transformative climate investments.

All of the five key issues areas are built environment related, with the sector being a contributor to the problem, but can also deliver a significant solution, particular so on the sustainable communities challenge:

The sustainable communities challenge is an effort led by cities to create buildings, communities and infrastructure that are clean, healthy, and livable. Cities can encourage community driven climate projects, a transition to net zero carbon buildings through the World Green Buildings Council and a progression towards zero waste.

Healthy energy systems can prevent dangerous effects from climate change. They can be achieved through a shift toward clean and equitable energy in addition to building a decarbonized energy and transportation system aligned with scientifically founded action requirements.

  • Action you can take: Accelerate the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) and make electric transport the new normal by 2030 by joining the EV100 initiative.

Inclusive economic growth requires climate leadership in business, clean technology, and an energy transition that fosters good jobs while spurring inclusive global economic development.

Land and ocean stewardship focuses on the role that forests, food, lands and other ecosystems must play in mitigating climate change and making our world more resilient, while also ensuring sufficient food supplies for a growing population. This climate action pathway requires support of sustainable food systems, conservation of resilient landscapes that deliver climate solutions, technical and financial support for new stewardship projects, and transparency, engagement, and investment from industry actors.

  • Action you can take: Implementing climate friendly land use, conservation, and agriculture policies. The 30X30 Forests, Food and Land Challenge’s goals is to achieve 30% of climate solutions by 2030 through improved agricultural and land use practices.

Transformative climate investments will require the mobilization of investment on an unprecedented scale to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Investors, considering their financial duties to clients and beneficiaries, are encouraged to act in one or more of the following four areas: Investment, corporate engagement, investor disclosure, and policy advocacy.

  • Action you can take: Commit to the use of green bonds for infrastructure investment and ask investors to invest in them. The Green Bond Pledge coordinated in part by Ceres is an initiative you can join.

Lastly, if you wish to inspire others who may wish to participate in the Global Climate Action Summit challenges, you can:

  1. Encourage your firm or community to find ways to take part in one of the five key climate action challenges.
  2. Share this video with your colleagues and business network so that they can also join the movement in raising global climate ambition.
  3. Follow the action on social media through the UNFCCC and the Global Climate Action Summit accounts:

 

Source: https://unfccc.int/news/rise-to-meet-the-global-climate-action-summit-challenges

 

Knowing the plastic numbers …

With the focus on plastic avoidance, reduction and recycling, do we really know the plastics that we use everyday and incorporate into our buildings, often without second thought to their impact on human and planetary health.

I am often asked by projects and offices what plastics are safe and or recyclable when looking to adopt responsible recycling or procurement approaches in reducing or removing plastics, or to address Red List compliance.

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Plastics are stamped with the now familiar ‘recycling’ chasing arrows triangle, encompassing  an identifying number.  However this does not necessarily mean the plastics are recyclable or indeed ‘safe’ to use in all circumstances. The numbers within the arrows, from 1 to 7, tell a different story, and are key to understanding specification, manufacture, use and disposal ofplastics.

But as even when recycled plastics only break down into smaller components, that as ‘micro-plastics’ cause greater environmental issues, the best plastic strategy maybe to avoid.

#1 – PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

Polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PETE or PET. Usually clear in color, the vast majority of disposable disposable beverage and food containers and bottles are made of #1 plastic. Another common place you’d find #1 is in your household cleaning product containers. This plastic is relatively safe, but it is important to keep it out of the heat or it could cause carcinogens (like the flame retardant antimony trioxide) to leach into your liquids. Hence the warning on water drinking bottles to keep out of sunlight. Plus, the porous nature of its surface allows bacteria and flavor to accumulate, so avoid reusing these bottles as makeshift containers.

Products made of #1 (PET) plastic can be recycled but not reused.

#2 – HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

HDPE plastic is the stiff plastic used to make milk jugs, detergent and oil bottles, toys, and some plastic bags. HDPE is the most commonly recycled plastic and is considered one of the safest forms of plastic. It is a relatively simple and cost-effective process to recycle HDPE plastic for secondary use.

Products made of HDPE are reusable and recyclable.

Red List: HDPE and LDPE are excluded from the Red List. However the Red List includes Chlorinated polyethylene and chlorosulfonated polyethlene (CSPE)

#3 – PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

PVC is a soft, flexible plastic used to make clear plastic food wrapping, cooking oil bottles, teething rings, children’s and pets’ toys, and blister packaging for myriad consumer products. It is commonly used as the sheathing material for computer cables, and to make plastic pipes and parts for plumbing. Because PVC is relatively impervious to sunlight and weather, it is used to make window frames, garden hoses, arbors, raised beds and trellises.

PVC, although tough in terms of strength, it is not considered safe for cooking or heating. PVC contains softening chemicals called phthalates that interfere with hormonal development.

PVC is dubbed the “poison plastic” because it contains numerous toxins which it can leach throughout its entire life cycle. PVC’s vinyl chloride monomer building block is a known human carcinogen. Almost all products using PVC require virgin material for their construction; less than 1% of PVC material is recycled.

PVC is a common, strong but lightweight plastic used in construction. It is made softer and more flexible by the addition of plasticizers. If no plasticizers are added, it is known as uPVC (unplasticized polyvinyl chloride) or rigid PVC.

Products made using PVC plastic are not recyclable.

PVC is a widely used plastic found in piping, electrical wire sheaths, and window frames.  It contains phthalates, which are also components of flexible vinyl products, sealants, and finishes.

  • There isn’t a great alternative to PVC wire sheaths.  Metal-sheathed wiring (“armored” cable) can be used, but it is harder to work with and much more expensive.
  • There are a few alternatives to PVC pipes.  Metal (copper, steel, or ductile iron) pipes, which can be used for some purposes, are heavier, susceptible to corrosion, and typically more expensive to buy and install.  Cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) and other related plastics are now being used to make flexible, convenient, and cheap pipes that do not contain PVC.  Unfortunately, PEX cannot be recycled and its health effects have not been definitively studied.  PEX degrades with sun exposure and may be more permeable to chemicals than other types of piping.
  • Wood, aluminum, and fiberglass are common alternatives to PVC window frames.  Wood requires additional maintenance, while aluminum frames should be used with some sort of thermal break to insulate the window and prevent condensation.  Prices vary, and the environmental impact of manufacturing should also be considered.
  • Avoid vinyl flooring, cords and hoses, shower curtains, artificial leather, pool liners, or paints made with phthalates.  There are many alternative plasticizers.

Red List: PVC and Phthalates are included on Red List

#4 – LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)

LDPE is often found in shrink wraps, dry cleaner garment bags, squeezable bottles, and the type of plastic bags used to package bread. The plastic grocery bags used in most stores today are made using LDPE plastic. Some clothing and furniture also uses this type of plastic.

Products made using LDPE plastic are reusable, but not always recyclable.

Red List: HDPE and LDPE are excluded from the Red List. However the Red List includes Chlorinated polyethylene and chlorosulfonated polyethlene (CSPE)

#5 – PP (Polypropylene)

Polypropylene plastic is tough and lightweight, and has excellent heat-resistance qualities. It serves as a barrier against moisture, grease and chemicals.  PP is also commonly used for disposable diapers, pails, plastic bottle tops, margarine and yogurt containers, potato chip bags, straws, packing tape and rope. Polypropylene is considered microwave-safe because it is heat resistant and therefore won’t get warped in the microwave. This does not mean it is healthy for you to consume foods which have been microwaved in it! It is always best to microwave in glass containers
PP is considered safe for reuse.

#6 – PS (Polystyrene)

Polystyrene is an inexpensive, lightweight and easily-formed plastic with a wide variety of uses. It is most often used to make disposable styrofoam drinking cups, take-out “clamshell” food containers, egg cartons, plastic picnic cutlery, foam packaging and those ubiquitous “peanut” foam chips used to fill shipping boxes to protect the contents. Polystyrene is also widely used to make rigid foam insulation and underlay sheeting for laminate flooring used in home construction.

Because polystyrene is structurally weak and ultra-lightweight, it breaks up easily and is dispersed readily throughout the natural environment. Beaches all over the world have bits of polystyrene lapping at the shores, and an untold number of marine species have ingested this plastic with immeasurable consequences to their health.

Polystyrene may leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen, into food products (especially when heated in a microwave). Chemicals present in polystyrene have been linked with human health and reproductive system dysfunction.

Recycling is not widely available for polystyrene products. Most curbside collection services will not accept polystyrene, which is why this material accounts for about 35% of US landfill material. While the technology for recycling polystyrene is available, the market for recycling is small. Awareness among consumers has grown, however, and polystyrene is being reused more often. While it is difficult to find a recycler for PS, some businesses like Mailboxes Etc. which provide shipping services are happy to receive foam packing chips for reuse.

Polystyrene should be avoided where possible.

#7 – Other (BPA, Polycarbonate and LEXAN)

The #7 category was designed as a catch-all for polycarbonate (PC) and “other” plastics, so reuse and recycling protocols are not standardized within this category. Of primary concern with #7 plastics, however, is the potential for chemical leaching into food or drink products packaged in polycarbonate containers made using BPA (Bisphenol A). BPA is a xenoestrogen, a known endocrine disruptor.

A new generation of compostable plastics, made from bio-based polymers like corn starch, is being developed to replace polycarbonates. These are also included in category #7, which can be confusing to the consumer. These compostable plastics have the initials “PLA” on the bottom near the recycling symbol. Some may also say “Compostable.”

#7 plastics are not for reuse, unless they have the PLA compostable coding.

Red List: Bisphenol A (BPA) used to manufacture polycarbonate (clear, hard) plastics and epoxy resins is included on the Red List

 Sources

Red List: https://living-future.org/declare/declare-about/red-list/

The ILFI Red List contains the worst in class materials prevalent in the building industry that may not be included in materials used in construction that seeks to meet the criteria of the Living Building Challenge (LBC).T

The commonly-used chemicals on the Red List are:

Polluting the environment
Bio-accumulating up the food chain until they reach toxic concentrations
Harming construction and factory workers

Plastics by the Numbers: EarthEasy – https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/plastics-by-the-numbers/

GreenSpec http://www.greenspec.co.uk/building-design/toxic-chemistry-health-environment-pollution/

The Seven Types of Plastic and What they mean for your health. https://www.nontoxicrevolution.org/blog/7-types-of-plastic

Green Building Alliance https://www.go-gba.org/resources/green-building-methods/materials-red-list/