Opin­ion: Are We Pay­ing the Price for Plas­tic Pack­ag­ing?

Mark Brink­ley won­ders whether the build­ing trade is ready to give up its re­liance on over-pack­aged prod­ucts

Homebuilding & Renovating - - CONTENTS - Mark Brink­ley Mark is the au­thor of the ever-pop­u­lar House­builder’s Bi­ble and an ex­pe­ri­enced self-builder.

W e have David At­ten­bor­ough’s Blue Planet to thank for bring­ing about an al­most uni­ver­sal con­dem­na­tion of our hap­less and care­less use of plas­tics. The butt of our dis­dain so far has been aimed at su­per­mar­kets and their habit of over-wrap­ping goods which al­ready have de­cent pro­tec­tive skins. But while all this has been hap­pen­ing, I’ve been gently push­ing to­wards the con­clu­sion of an ur­ban self-build in the back­streets of Cam­bridge and I’ve spent much of my time fill­ing skips — 17 in to­tal dur­ing the course of the build.

But whereas the early ones were filled with soil and bro­ken up con­crete, lately I have be­come alarmed by the vol­ume of plas­tic I have been putting in

the skips. A huge amount of stuff has been bought for the new house and most of it has come wrapped in plas­tic, much of it quite un­nec­es­sar­ily so.

The worst of­fender was ac­tu­ally a mat­tress that came from John Lewis. It looked like the mat­tress just came in a card­board box, but in­side the box were two skins of thick plas­tic, one wrapped around the mat­tress and the other sand­wiched be­tween the in­ner film and the card­board box. Now you need to keep a mat­tress dry, for sure,

but it isn’t some­thing that is likely to break in tran­sit and it’s also un­likely to be stored out­side.

As the job moved to­wards its con­clu­sion, the amount of plas­tic mul­ti­plied so that the last cou­ple of skips seemed to con­sist of al­most noth­ing ex­cept wrap­pers and pad­ding of one kind or an­other.

There is, of course, a rea­son for all this. Many ma­te­ri­als are rou­tinely picked up by builders and put on the back of an open truck. If it’s rain­ing, the goods will get wet and that’s bad news for most build­ing ma­te­ri­als. Even a plas­tic damp-proof mem­brane needs to stay dry, so a roll of plas­tic re­quired to keep damp from pen­e­trat­ing the floor needs to be wrapped in some­thing wa­ter­proof to stop it get­ting wet in tran­sit. The same logic ap­plies to bricks which also rou­tinely get wrapped in plas­tic. Brick­ies like bricks to be dry when laid, so wrap­ping them in plas­tic makes sense.

But hark. Brick­lay­ers were lay­ing bricks thou­sands of years be­fore plas­tic was in­vented. How did the poor dears cope? Well cope they did. Maybe they took a lit­tle more time to do it, but the re­sults were just as pleas­ing, if not more so. Herein lies a clue to what is hap­pen­ing. We live in an age where labour is rel­a­tively ex­pen­sive and any­thing such as plas­tic, which re­duces the amount of time spent on site, is good news for builders and their clients. And any­thing that min­imises

call backs – like ma­te­ri­als dam­aged in tran­sit – helps even more. Un­like labour, plas­tic and foam pack­ag­ing is so cheap and ubiq­ui­tous that it makes fi­nan­cial sense to use it wher­ever you can in or­der to smooth the process of trans­port­ing and stor­ing ma­te­ri­als. Plas­tic is just so damn con­ve­nient.

So could build­ing ma­te­ri­als sup­pli­ers be per­suaded to use less pack­ag­ing? The builders them­selves have no con­trol over how their ma­te­ri­als are de­liv­ered to site, so the change would have to be made fur­ther up­stream in the sup­ply chain. Log­i­cally, the way to do this would be via a plas­tic tax, which would make sup­pli­ers look for al­ter­na­tives. But are we ready for such a thing? And would the tax be able to dis­tin­guish be­tween use­ful plas­tics and throw­away plas­tics? While David At­ten­bor­ough has shown us just how dam­ag­ing our ad­dic­tion to plas­tic is, thus far we have only paid lip ser­vice to how to con­front it.

“As the job moved to­wards its con­clu­sion, the amount of plas­tic mul­ti­plied — the last cou­ple of skips seemed to con­sist of noth­ing ex­cept wrap­pers and pad­ding”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.