Going Round In Green Circle

Going Round In Green Circle

The shows like Blue Planet and the Plastic Tax are showing us that we can’t go on using single use plastic products that fill up landfill sites. We need, as consumers and as a building industry to look at ways we can help create a circular economy.

The famous yachtswoman, Ellen MacArthur, has set up the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to develop and promote the idea of a circular economy, which is defines designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. But how does that theory work in practical terms? We take guttering as an example.

The UK gutter market is dominated by black PVC-u guttering, but plastic is almost never recycled (BBC Science & Environment Dec 2018), it can contaminate other recyclable plastics (BBC Science & Environment Dec 2018), and needs replacing regularly. So, if not plastic, what is the best material to make a gutter from? Aluminium is far better for the environment than plastic, or any other material used to make rainwater products. Responsibly sourced it has the following advantages.

  • Total greenhouse gases produced in aluminium manufacture halved in last 20 years (ALFED – Aluminium Federation)
  • Manufacturing from recycled material requires 95% less energy.
  • 75% of aluminium still in use today
  • Scrap value encourages recycling
  • 100% recycled at end of life.
  • Infinitely recyclable with no loss of properties[HC1]

Aluminium building products can be easily and economically recycled, and this process forms an essential part of our manufacturing cycle at ARP for example. Any waste created in the production process or during installation is sent for recycling by ARP. The ability to recycle aluminium product creates a closed loop manufacturing cycle. We are carrying out a feasibility study whereby with a portion of any scrap value from installation waste offered as a discount on any next order. The recycled waste is then fed into the ARP production cycle once again at ARP.
With the price of plastic guttering and fittings at an all time high, with further price increases on the horizon, the cost differential between and installed plastic or aluminium guttering system is negligible[HC1].

Property 1Property 2
Scope of works -external upgrade and decoration

Guttering works: replace circa 280lm pvc guttering.

Current State – in need of repair/replace.

Most recent install – 1990s

Scrap value – £0.00

Scope of works -external upgrade and decoration

Guttering works: replace circa 300lm seamless guttering.

Current State – fully functioning.

Originally installed – early 1980’s

Scrap value – £190.00

This local authority has several similar properties similar to the ones shown above. These examples require new windows, doors, and roofline replacement.
Property number one will have to have the guttering removed, which due to the lack of any significant value is likely to be disposed of in a skip and taken to landfill. In addition to this waste requiring disposal, off cuts and single use plastic wrappers from the installation will also need to be disposed of.

By comparison, property 2 has fully functioning seamless guttering already installed. However this didn’t match the colour design of the new scheme so it was replaced. 480kgs of aluminium gutter and brackets was taken down (1.6kgs per/m) and recycled with a tangible cash back value. This will be recycled, sold, and made into new aluminium products for 95% less energy and carbon that products made from raw materials. This inherent value ensures that the product being removed will not go to landfill and significantly reduces the amount of waste being created by this scope of works. In addition, there will also be no waste created by the installing of new gutters.

So, aluminium ticks all three of the boxes for the perfect circular economy building products:

  1. designing out waste and pollution: aluminium production is more energy efficient than ever
  2. keeping products and materials in use: Nearly 75 percent of all aluminium ever produced is still in use today and aluminium recycling is a well-established practice, already engrained in our recycling habits
  3. and regenerating natural systems: 100% recyclable without loss of property

Recycling and reuse are now standard practice in the aluminium sector and well established as a habitual recycling practice. This is nothing new. As long ago as the 1940s American families were encouraged to take aluminium foil to cinemas to exchange for free tickets as part of the war effort. The trend for mass aluminium recycling was then accelerated by drinks cans manufacturers. The used beverage can sector is now massive and today it is possible for a used beer can be back on the shelves in just 60 days! As the UK and EU prepares to toughen up its laws to encourage a fully circular economy, aluminium is well positioned in the materials race.