Sustainable Construction: Innovation in the Plastic Industry for Recycled Materials

Materials Studio

sustainable construction
The quest for sustainability has reached the construction field. Can the plastic industry capitalize on this opportunity?
Image source: Flickr CC user Tony Alter

For the last several years, we’ve seen a push toward sustainability. While we typically associate this movement with the food and clothing industries, it’s also affecting other sectors. So-called green homes have become increasingly popular, which leads to more interest in eco-friendly construction materials such as plant-based paint. Even more striking, the growing focus on decreasing our carbon footprint has encouraged people to recycle more and minimize the usage of plastic materials. In recent months, however, there’s been a noticeable demand for something that addresses all of the above.

Product manufacturers have begun to seek more sustainable materials, resulting in the popularity of adopting recycled plastic materials in the construction sector. It’s a surprising combination that tends to fuel skepticism. How can you guarantee quality in materials if you use recycled plastics? Will they actually meet required specifications? The reality of the matter, however, is that recycled plastics can be just as good as virgin plastics.1

Using Recycled Materials to Meet Market Demands in Sustainable Construction

The interest in recycled plastics converges on trends currently being observed in the sustainable construction industry—namely the fact that usage of plastic materials is growing and certain to increase even more in the coming years. Floors, walls, roofs, and insulation are only a few of the categories where the material can make its mark. In fact, it doesn’t seem like there is an area where plastic can not used.

With recycled materials, the plastic industry capitalizes both on these markets and fulfills the overarching desire for eco-friendly sources. But while sustainability is absolutely a core advantage, there are other reasons it behooves companies to look at this burgeoning category. In terms of construction materials, recycled plastics can outlast traditional materials, require less maintenance and be resistant to regular wear and tear such as peeling and cracking.2 Why wouldn’t the building sector take advantage of these desirable traits?

The benefits aren’t central to the construction sector alone. Beyond the environmental advantages, the use of recycled plastics actually reduces cost when compared to prime plastics. Even more useful to manufacturers, there is a reliable, consistent supply. Because despite our efforts to reduce our plastic use, it remains pervasive. What better way to tackle the problem of excess plastic than to put it to use in construction and building materials?

There are a few factors that need to be taken into consideration, however. As previously mentioned, one of the concerns about recycled plastics is that they don’t meet required specifications. In other words, the plastic industry will need to reformulate the recycled materials so that they fit the necessary parameters. Among the traits that typically need tailoring are impact resistance and tensile strength.3 On the other hand, companies can meet even the most stringent of specifications with the right set of tools. Due to “manufacturing to demand,” firms are allowed a flexibility that they may not enjoy when designing prime plastics.

Reformulating recycled plastics into materials that meet the demands and requirements of the sustainable construction industry may seem like a daunting task. It requires the ability to visualize structures in order to develop high-quality polymers with the desired properties. And while the ability to create products to meet already-defined parameters is an advantage, it also means the plastic industry has to be efficient in how it accomplishes those goals. It does not need to waste time on developing potential polymers that will fail to fulfill the intended use.

BIOVIA Materials Studio is a comprehensive modeling and simulation environment that allows materials scientists and chemists to visualize structures of potential new polymers. By using 3D modeling tools, researchers can predict the physical properties and behaviors of new materials and use this information to decide which structures have the most potential and should be developed further. It adds efficiency to your research and development laboratories by virtue of reducing the number of experiments needed to determine a new material’s viability. If your plastics company is interested in a tool that can support its efforts to develop high-grade polymers for specific industry demand, then please contact us today to learn more about Materials Studio.

  1. “Polymer Industries bought by TGM Recycling,” February 8, 2016, http://www.prw.com/article/20160208/PRW/160209830/polymer-industries-bought-by-tgm-recycling
  2. “Plastics Growth in Building & Construction Driven by Innovation, Market Demand,” January 28, 2016, http://www.ptonline.com/blog/post/plastics-growth-in-building-construction-driven-by-innovation-market-demand
  3. “UK Plastics Recycler Growing for Bespoke Recycled Polymers,” January 26, 2016, http://waste-management-world.com/a/uk-plastics-recycler-growing-for-bespoke-recycled-polymers

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