In recent years the devastation that plastic pollution is causing has been widely publicised.

From documentaries, conferences and news reports, we have seen a significant focus on what can be done to reduce the levels of plastic that end up in the sea. However, the same attitude isn’t evident when it comes to reducing plastic pollution on land. Many people fail to realise the detrimental impact of plastic on land-based ecosystems or the scale at which the pollution is increasing. In fact, research has found that only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, with the other 91% being incinerated, accumulated in landfill or dumped within the natural environment.

Plastic Waste Management graph

Furthermore, within the last thirty years, plastic product manufacturing has increased by over 70% globally. Whilst we recognise that the modern world can’t function without plastic, and a complete stop to plastic pollution is near impossible, something must be done to make an effort to reduce the scale at which it is occurring.

However, the disposal of plastic on land is not the only problem. We must also consider how plastic is being used unnecessarily, particularly for building solutions. The construction sector has been highlighted as the second-highest user of plastics, therefore, it is crucial to priorities systems that reduce the use of plastic and provide opportunities to be reused or recycled. With this in mind, we can predict a future that heavily focuses on plastic alternatives such as ‘compostable polymer film’ and ‘pulp’, leaving companies and products that choose not to move towards a more eco-conscious initiative, in the past.

plastic pollution

This growing awareness of plastic pollution is triggering a shift within the construction industry that realises the importance of new, sustainable technologies in protecting the natural environment. One of the leading strategies driving this change is SuDS, (Sustainable Drainage Systems), which focuses on changing the way we manage water. SuDS water management practices aim to align modern drainage systems with the natural water cycle. However, many of the solutions that are being adopted in SuDS are not truly sustainable, as they consist of large amounts of plastic being buried in the ground. To be truly sustainable, SuDS solutions should consist of minimal plastic and be easily recyclable at the end of life. Natural aquifer SuDS greatly reduce the use of plastic in comparison to other water management solutions, but also improve water quality and enhance the amenity and biodiversity value of the environment.

With SuDS now a legal requirement of all land development designs, and with legislation only becoming more and more stringent, it is crucial to understand the strengths of different types of SuDS and their suitability for each project. SuDS can be categorised into three parts, each corresponding to stages of water movement, These are; ‘at source’, ‘site control’ and ‘regional control’.  There are various strategies to cope with excess rain at each stage. The most extensive SuDS are Regional Controlled SuDS. These can cover multiple developments within an area and usually provide drainage into a particular body of water such as Detention Basins, Retention Ponds or Wetlands. Secondly, there are Site Controlled SuDS which can cover an entire development through solutions such as Swales, Attenuation Tanks, Infiltration Systems and Permeable Paving. Finally, At Source SuDS focus on controlling rain where it falls; this can include Green roofs and Walls and Rainwater Harvesting.  New technologies such as Natural Aquifers provide cost-effective solutions in all three of these areas.

Hydrorock Aquifer Blocks provide a new, innovative, sustainable drainage system that can effectively manage excess surface water to prevent flooding and drought. The Aquifer Blocks are made from natural stone wool, providing an enhanced natural water management system, that is an alternative to burying plastics underground. This system stops large volumes of water collecting in a single place, moving, storing and releasing water by infiltration, attenuation and irrigation. Hydrorock not only provides a sustainable and effective solution, made from natural resources, but also implements a recycle and reuse policy to ensure the materials are not wasted. After Hydrorock’s whole life assessment, the used system can be returned to the UK Rockwool facility, where it is then recycled into insulation material. This highlights the potential for more companies to adopt policies that look to recycle the materials they are using once they are no longer suitable for their initial purpose.

New technologies, such as Hydrorock, have the potential to make a real difference in protecting our planet. Products that work in harmony with the environment whilst also considering the full product cycle and its impact at the end of its life must be a priority moving forward. Therefore, governments and councils must make conscious choices to implement solutions that reduce the negative impacts of construction on the environment, to not only mitigate flood risks at present but also reduce the risk to our planet in the future.

Sources:

https://www.eastcambs.gov.uk/sites/default/files/C687%20Planning%20for%20suds.pdf_0.pdf

https://www.building.co.uk/focus/plastic-waste-in-construction-is-the-sector-doing-enough/5098139.article

https://www.unep.org/interactive/beat-plastic-pollution

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