Ministry of the Environment investigates the use of plastics in buildings – ARA, Senate Properties and the University of Helsinki studying how to reduce the use of plastics in their construction projects

Press release 2019-04-05 at 9:01
Muovia talotekniikassa.jpg
Plastics are also used in building service components. © Ministry's photo bank, Mikko Törmänen

A study by the Ministry of the Environment on the use of plastics in residential buildings and day-care centres reveals that plastics can be found in all parts of buildings. The amount of plastics in individual buildings, however, is very small when compared to the other materials. Some of these plastics would be relatively easy to recycle or replace using other solutions.

“Around 20 per cent of plastics are used for construction. We must reduce the amount of plastics and increase the recycling rate if we want to decrease the carbon footprint and environmental harm caused by construction. That said, the use of plastics is still necessary in many parts of buildings,” says Minister of the Environment, Energy and Housing Kimmo Tiilikainen.

In connection with their 2019 construction and renovation projects, the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA), Senate Properties and the University of Helsinki Properties and Facilities are investigating how the use of plastics can be reduced and how plastics can be replaced with other materials in structures and systems without compromising on essential technical requirements. The project will also explore how to reduce the amount of plastics waste generated by construction and how to increase the rate of recovery and recycling.

Plastics less than 0.5 per cent of total building weight

The study carried out by the Ministry of the Environment and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland investigated seven typical residential buildings and three day-care centres. The buildings in the study had either concrete or wooden frames. The study found that out of all building materials used, plastics made up less than 0.5 per cent of the total building weight. The proportion of plastics in the total weight of concrete-framed buildings was slightly smaller than in wood-framed buildings.

In residential buildings, plastics were used relatively evenly in all building parts. Plastics were used in all parts of day-care centre buildings as well, but they were distributed less evenly across the different building parts. The amount of plastics used in day-care centres was clearly larger than in residential buildings, as day-care centres had relatively more building service components and were more likely to have plastic floor coverings. Day-care centres also had more plastic-based thermal insulation materials than residential buildings. The safety surfaces of playground areas at the investigated day-care centres also contained high volumes of EPDM rubber.

The most commonly used plastics in the investigated buildings were polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene (PE), polystyrene (EPS), polypropylene (PP), polyurethane (PUR) and EPDM rubber. In the case buildings, these plastic types were used most commonly in cables, ducts, pipes, insulations and the safety surfaces of playground areas. Some of these plastics are used as products or as parts of products in such a way that the plastic component can be separated in demolition.

A very significant proportion of the plastics in buildings are used as resins and binding components. Large volumes of these plastics were found in paints, glues and as binding or reinforcing components in boards, roofing and insulation materials. The share of these was 44 per cent of all plastics in concrete residential buildings and 37 per cent in wooden residential buildings. These materials are very difficult to recycle, which means that other solutions are needed.

In addition to the plastics observed in the study, plastics are commonly used in the furniture and appliances found in buildings, and assessing the amount and quality of these requires further investigation. The results of the study cannot be used to make generalisations concerning all buildings in Finland.

How does reducing the use of plastic affect construction?

In their study, ARA, Senate Properties and the University of Helsinki Properties and Facilities are also investigating how reducing the use of plastic affects the costs, completion schedule and carbon footprint of construction. At the same time, the operators will develop the planning, project management and procurement practices used in their construction projects. The Ministry of the Environment is supporting this work by commissioning impact assessments and environmental assessments and by communicating the interim results of the project to accelerate the other measures in Finland’s national Plastics Roadmap.

The plastics study and the project to reduce the use of plastic are measures included in Finland’s Plastics Roadmap. The Plastics Roadmap website was launched today and provides information about plastics and the roadmap measures.

  • The full report on the use of plastics in construction will be released in April: Plastics in buildings - an inventory from Finland. Ministry of the Environment, 2019. Kuittinen, Vares & Häkkinen.
  • Plastics Roadmap for Finland web site (brief in English): Muovitiekartta.fi

Inquiries:

Study on plastics in construction:

Matti Kuittinen, Senior Specialist, Ministry of the Environment, tel. +358 2952 50268, firstname.lastname@ym.fi

Joint project by ARA, Senate Properties and University of Helsinki Properties and Facilities:

Matti Kuittinen, Senior Specialist, Ministry of the Environment, tel. +358 2952 50268, firstname.lastname@ym.fi

Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA): Vesa Ijäs, Development Architect, tel. +358 29 525 0868, vesa.ijas@ara.fi

Senate Properties: Juha Lemström, COO, tel. +358 40 550 0847, juha.lemstrom@senaatti.fi

University of Helsinki Properties and Facilities: Teppo Salmikivi, Director of Properties and Facilities, tel. +358 50 566 4398, teppo.salmikivi@helsinki.fi