Materials made from petroleum, such as plastics, are highly responsible for the negative impacts on nature and human health. Unfortunately, microplastics have even been detected in breast milk recently. This is due to the market inability of processing this waste into recycling. In addition to the severe negative environmental impacts of their production, they will inevitably end up in inappropriate contexts, making it harmful to the environment and human life, such as the Ocean, where it is predicted that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish!

Every day we are bombarded with new types of plastic, including those used in the construction industry and we should consider that plastic can take up to 400 years to decompose. Most plastics in use cannot be recycled as they are difficult to dispose of and neither degrade nor decompose. This is no different from the type of petroleum products used in construction like for example uPVC, which is widely used in the manufacture of window frames.

These frames may have a good thermal performance, but the environmental cost is devastating. When this type of material is recycled, it continuously decreases its quality until it can no longer be recycled. In the environment, they can also slow down the decomposition of other waste, reinforce the buildup of sanitary landfills and even contribute to the increase of illegal landfills, and therefore the inevitable destination, the sea…

There is a misconception that these materials are sustainable because they are recyclable and although they are, the market is not ready to absorb this much recycled plastic. So, effectively the solution is to stop production and in order for that to happen we must stop using it in all areas of our lives, whenever alternatives are available. For example, for both insulation and window frames there are viable alternatives with excellent thermal and acoustic performance and very low environmental impact. Therefore, alternative solutions are one way to solve this problem and we should choose them whenever possible.

In this article I will give the example of aluminium as an alternative to uPVC as it is a more sustainable material. Firstly, aluminium is more durable than plastic, it can withstand long term use which makes it perfect for reuse. In fact, about 75% of the aluminium ever made is still used to this day. Aluminium can be a light and malleable metal, but also very strong and it can be infinitely recyclable (which means it keeps its quality when recycled, unlike plastic). When aluminium is recycled it saves more than 90% of the energy needed to produce new aluminium and if the energy comes from a clean source, then we have a perfect material.

One of the great advantages of aluminium frames is its long-lasting durability and resistance to atmospheric conditions, including corrosion from weather and sea air, and climatic variations. These frames have a prolonged life cycle and require low maintenance over the years of use, which is also an added value in terms of sustainability.

All of these reasons and from an environmental perspective, aluminium is a sustainable alternative to petroleum derivatives, which have numerous negative impacts. In conclusion, opting for aluminium in the construction sector is a great choice as it offers a series of advantages that will add even more value to a property as it is a durable product, with low environmental cost and easy maintenance.

October, 2022

Aline Guerreiro, PCS

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