Building Evolution – A Look at Materials, Part 2: Issues and Alternatives

In our previous post, we discussed the risks associated with the increased use of plastics in the ‎construction and interior furnishings industries. The diagram to the right illustrates where plastic materials ‎currently appear in low-rise and multi-story commercial ‎and multi-unit residential structures.‎ Click on the image to view the diagram at its full size.

Proven alternatives exist for nearly all these applications. And while none is perfect, many of these offer ‎significant benefits in terms of initial environmental impact, human health and safety during use, and the ‎ability to reuse and recycle at the end of product lifecycle. The list below – inspired by Building Green’s ‎Spec This Not That, Avoiding Toxic Chemicals in Commercial Building Products – shows three key examples ‎of applications, key issues and alternatives to consider.

Flooring

Plastic Issues

  • Low/no recycled content
  • High VOC emissions degrade interior air quality
  • May contain PFAs, antimicrobial, and other toxins

Alternatives to Consider

  • Products from manufacturers with takeback programs
  • PVC-free flooring
  • FSC, reclaimed, and green-certified wood

Piping

Plastic Issues

  • Can melt or burn, compromising firestopping and fueling flame spread
  • Chemical leaching into water

Alternatives to Consider

  • Copper
  • Ductile iron
  • Steel

Wall & Ceiling Panels

Plastic Issues

  • Emit toxic smoke
  • Burn hotter
  • Contain low/no recycled content

Alternatives to Consider

  • Aluminum
  • Wood

One thing is clear: as the design and construction industry learns more about the true cost of using plastic ‎materials, growth in use of plastics will not continue. By contrast, it’s very likely to decrease significantly as ‎architects, engineers, and builders increasingly consider which products containing plastic fit the standards ‎of performance and safety they want to incorporate in their buildings.‎