Plastic waste in construction. Saturday 5th June is the United Nation’s World Environment Day. Part of the UN’s Environment Programme, World Environment Day is an annual event that focuses on promoting awareness, and encouraging change on critical environmental issues such marine pollution, eco-system restoration, and conservation.

The construction industry – companies and individuals – has its own important part to play in helping to improve the world’s natural environment.


Every year the UK uses over 5 million tonnes of plastic,  and the construction industry is responsible for a sizeable chunk of this.  It is still the second largest consumer of plastic waste in the UK – only the packaging industry produces more.  Plastic waste is primarily generated through discarded single use plastics such as cable ties, plastic packaging, unused materials, and off-cuts.


  • Plastic can take over 1000 years to degrade (contaminating soil, rivers and oceans in the process).
  • It is estimated that more than five trillion plastic particles are in the world’s oceans. It’s predicted that if nothing changes by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than the number of fish.
  • Every year 50,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste is produced by the construction industry.
  • The construction industry accounts for 23% of all plastic consumed in the UK.
  • 40% of plastic waste from UK construction sites is sent straight to landfill.
  • 1/3 of plastic waste used in construction is single use plastic.
  • The construction industry produces three times more packaging than all households in the UK combined.
Plastic waste in construction. Skip on a construction site filled to the brim

1Source: CCS 


However, in recent years increased environmental awareness has seen the construction industry take significant steps in both taking responsibility and improving sustainability.

Many construction companies have sustainability targets in place – whereby there is a focused effort to reduce the impact on the environment through initiatives such as an increased use of sustainable products, renewable materials, and minimising waste.

For example, MACE committed to significantly reducing its consumption of single-use plastics – not only amongst its workforce but also through working closely with suppliers and clients.

Its hugely successful ‘Time to Act’ campaign launched in 2018 and focuses on reducing plastic waste in the construction industry.  It has helped raise awareness of plastic waste right across the industry.

Construction companies can lead the way in implementing sustainable practices. Another example of industry development in this area is the growth of the Sustainability Manager role within construction. Sustainability Managers are responsible for ensuring sustainability targets are met – not only within their organisation, but along the supply chain.


There lots of initiatives businesses, both big and small, can do to help reduce plastic waste within construction and reduce the impact on the environment.

The Considerate Constructors Scheme, Spotlight on Plastics and Packaging , offers helpful guidance on how companies can reduce their consumption of plastic waste. Here are some of their best practice ‘quick wins’:

Internal initiatives

  • Provision of recycling stations.
  • Internal communications and guidance on how individuals can reduce their own use of plastics.
  • Switch to viable alternatives to single use plastics – for example reusable drinking cups rather than single use disposable cups.
Recycling stations in a row

Procurement best practice

  • Setting targets with suppliers to monitor and reduce packaging materials.
  • Encouraging suppliers to move away from single-use packaging towards packaging made from recycled materials.
  • When writing tender specifications including requirements for the supplier to avoid single use plastics wherever possible.

Best practice on site

  • Initiate a ban on single-use plastic cups, straws, cutlery, and crockery
  • When available use mains water on site to refill water coolers and reusable water bottles.
  • Providing recycling stations and segregate plastics and packaging for separate disposal.

Click here to see the full guide.

Sustainability targets are here to stay. And, with the clock continuing to tick against us in terms of protecting the environment for future generations, it is also now more important than ever to look for product innovations that can do the same task but in a more sustainable way.

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