The Plastic Free Architecture Project is a project from the Portal of Sustainable Construction which aims to raise the awareness of architects, challenging them to design their buildings without prescribing plastic or oil-derived materials.

The truth is that we have all been alerted to the need to ban plastics from our lives. However, we forget a very important discipline: architecture. The one which is responsible for the construction of our buildings, where we spend 90% of our days, and one which in its constructive activity, uses about 60% of resources which derive from oil, from the packaging of the construction materials to the materials used in the construction work itself, such as insulation, flooring or window frames, which can nowadays be easily replaced by another type of materials, completely free of polymers or other types of plastic.

Of all construction and demolition waste (aka CDW) generated in the sector, 35% is plastic. Of the plastic produced worldwide, 20% goes to the construction sector, 23% to furniture and appliances and almost 40% to packaging.

It is the architects who are responsible for prescribing these materials on site and the interior architects for the decoration. However, all users of buildings are responsible for their use. Here is the great challenge for a healthy habitat: living without plastic, in a building designed with this in mind since its inception.

Some examples of where you can find plastics or materials which contain polymers (derived from oil) in the construction of a building, more commonly, and that can easily be replaced by environmentally friendly options:

  • Insulation: replace common EPS, XPS and polyurethanes with natural materials, such as agglomerated cork, mineral wool or expanded clays.
  • Plumbing: 100% recycled PVC plumbing already exists on the market, thus avoiding the disposal of this material.
  • Sanitary: there are national companies where plastics used in toilets, such as flush toilets or toilet lids, are made from recycled plastic, avoiding the disposal of this material.
  • Window frames: no to PVC. Opt for window frames in fiberglass, wood or recycled aluminum.
  • Interior coatings: again, no to virgin oil-derived materials. Always choose recycled materials or natural materials, such as cork or wood.
  • Exterior coatings: there are countless solutions for exterior coatings which use end-of-life tires, turning them into fantastic coating materials.

Let us remind you that plastic is one of the greatest enemies of the environment. Its production not only incorporates oil, but its extraction and production involves practices that excessively pollute the environment. Another serious problem is that plastic takes more than 100 years to decompose. Currently, several countries have passed laws to ban plastic, which is not biodegradable, gradually, until it is completely eliminated. Among others, are India, Indonesia or Norway, for example. In Costa Rica, the government is investing in research and offering incentives for the development of new materials, with the aim of banning plastic in several areas by 2021.

It should be noted that there are areas in which plastic is indispensable, especially in products designed for durability. However, we remind you that this must be a properly reflected need, always weighing the environmental cost / benefit, considering alternative solutions, such as the referred recycled plastics and the use of biodegradable plastic and, in some cases, always questioning when the use of these materials makes sense or not.

In October 2022, Architecture Month, we’ll be launching a plastic-free specifications booklet. Stay tuned!


Portal da Construção Sustentável

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