Plastics in Construction : Issues, Impacts and Alternatives

Plastics in Construction : Issues, Impacts and Alternatives

Leading researchers, activists and industry speakers have been announced for the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products’ third annual conference to be held on 28th February 2019 at London South Bank University.

Human health and planetary health are by very definition inter-related…we can’t have one without the other. Since the BBC’s Blue Planet II, the UK has woken up to the problem of plastic in the environment, with some commentators even suggesting that plastic is a greater threat to the planet than climate change. Anti-plastic has rapidly become a popular cause-celebre championed by all mainstream media. So, how should the built environment industry respond? Is the problem limited to single use packaging or are all plastic products a problem to which we must find alternatives?

“The construction industry is the second largest user of plastic, with 20% of plastic waste coming from the construction sector”, said Simon Corbey, Associate Director of ASBP. “It is estimated we produce globally 300MT of plastic annually with 50% of this being single use. Piping and conduit are the largest users of polymers in construction and consume 35% of production”.

Following the announcement of the keynote speakers - environmentalist & yachtswoman Emily Penn, a leading advocate for reducing plastic pollution in our oceans; and Professor Sean Smith, Director of Sustainable Construction at Edinburgh Napier University, a number of exciting speakers have now been confirmed including:

  • Professor Stephen Holgate CBE - Medical Research Council Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology and special adviser on air quality to the Royal College of Physicians
  • Dr. Stephanie Wright - Research Fellow, King's College London
  • Martin Gettings - Group Head of Sustainability, Canary Wharf Group PLC
  • Professor Anna Stec - Professor in Fire Chemistry & Toxicity, University of Central Lancashire
  • Dr. John Williams - Technical Director, BBIA
  • Kris Karslake - Sustainability Manager, BAM Construct UK
  • Ben Humphries - Director, Architype
  • Scott Pearce - Operational Policy and Development, Kent Fire and Rescue Service

Our conference will bring together expert thinkers and doers to focus on the thorny challenge of plastic. As usual for an ASBP event, we will take a holistic view by exploring the impacts of plastic products on the health of people, and the planet.

Why plastics?

The impacts and implications of our use of plastic in construction are just beginning to be understood. These impacts span across the whole life cycle from extraction, manufacturing, to toxicity and fire e.g. hydrogen cyanide and continue through to end of life.

“ASBP is not advocating a ‘plastic-free’ built environment. We are a material agnostic organisation who champions optimum outcomes for sustainability,” said Gary Newman, Executive Chair of ASBP. “However, we do advocate an approach that wherever possible the use of plastic products in construction should be confined to specialist high value, low volume application areas.”

The expo will feature 20+ leading product manufacturers, charities, academic institutions, air testing specialists and more.

Leading Product Manufacturers, charities, academic institutions

Following the conference, the winner of the inaugural ASBP Awards will be announced during a celebratory drinks ceremony following short presentations from the six shortlisted entrants.

For further information, including; the programme, exhibitor list and special offer tickets, please visit

Event details:

  • Date: Thursday 28th February 2019
  • Time: 9:00 - 18:00, followed by drinks and ASBP Awards winner announcement until 19:30
  • Location: Keyworth Centre, London South Bank University, London SE1 6NG
  • Tickets: £100 +VAT - ASBP members, £150 +VAT – partners, £200 +VAT - general admittance.
  • NEW YEAR TICKET OFFER: 10% off tickets until 31st January 2019 using code ‘HB19NEWYEAR’ (excludes ‘Buy One Get One Free’ offer below). Bookings can be made via the ASBP website.
  • BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE TICKET OFFER: A limited number of ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ tickets are available for members of ASBP and our partner organisations. Tickets, while they last, can be booked via the ‘2 for £100’ or ‘2 for £150’ options on the ASBP website.
  • Booking: Visit to book. 


9.00 Registration, refreshments and exhibition

Session 1: Understanding the context and problem - The effects of plastics on our environment and health

10:00 Simon Corbey - Associate Director, ASBP - Welcome from the Chair

10:10 Professor Stephen Holgate - Medical Research Council Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology and special adviser on air quality to the Royal College of Physicians

We are delighted to welcome back Professor Stephen Holgate who will update us on his technical working group on indoor air quality.

10:30 Emily Penn - eXXpedition founder, Parley for the Oceans and Sky Ocean Rescue Ambassador

Emily Penn is an oceans advocate, skipper and Cambridge University Architecture graduate. Emily splits her time between running eXXpedition - a series of all female voyages which focus on the relationship between plastics and toxics and female health - and working on solving the ocean plastics issue with Parley for the Oceans.

10:55 Exhibitor products showcase

15 product suppliers and manufacturers will be given 2 minutes each to showcase their products and update us on their journeys to using the less plastic in their products and processes.

11:25 Refreshments and exhibition

12:00 Professor Sean Smith, Director of Sustainable Construction, Edinburgh Napier University

Plastic in construction: Circular economy improvements and innovative substitution from other products

Professor Sean Smith will cover the impacts of plastics and current usage areas within construction.

  • What are the opportunities to re-use existing plastics and remove from waste landfill?
  • What improvements in other product areas may replace some plastics in use?
  • What are some of the key issues the industry is bringing up in relation to plastics waste?

12.25 Dr. Stephanie Wright - Research Associate, King's College London

(Micro)plastics and health

Dr. Stephanie Wright will update us on her research into microplastics - microscopic pieces of degraded plastic which are a known marine contaminant with harmful impacts. Her research aims to capture and identify potential microplastics in air samples and, if of inhalable size, estimate human exposure levels and health impacts.

  • How are we exposed to microplastics?
  • Can we infer where they go in the human body?
  • What impacts might exposure have?

ASBP Awards

12:45 ASBP Awards presentations and audience vote

Short presentations from the six shortlisted projects followed by an audience vote.

13:15 Lunch, networking and exhibition

Session 2: The journey to less plastic; what are the steps and the alternatives?

14:15 Martin Gettings - Group Head of Sustainability, Canary Wharf Group PLC

Martin Gettings, Group Head of Sustainability at Canary Wharf Group will give an update on CWG’s Breaking the Plastic Habit programme, designed to help eliminate single-use plastics at Canary Wharf.

  • How piloting new technologies can spark innovation and collaboration and encourage behavioural change in a micro-city environment.
  • What steps Canary Wharf is taking to achieve Surfers Against Sewage’s Plastic Free Community status.
  • Encouraging people to rethink their plastic usage and move away from avoidable single-use plastics, rather than trying to get rid of all plastic.

14:35 Dr. John Williams - Technical Director, BBIA

Dr. John Williams is an expert in bio-based and biodegradable industries and will discuss the the latest innovations in bio-plastics.

14:55 Kris Karslake - Sustainability Manager, BAM Construct UK

Kris Karslake is BAM’s Sustainability Manager and will update on how plastic waste is being avoided by contractors.

  • Moving from waste to resources – a bit on stats and performance of the construction industry
  • Whitecroft lighting – Ecobox – the irony that eliminating single use plastic results in multiple use plastic
  • Workforce engagement – demonstration of the level that people are already engaged with this ‘campaign’ to reduce unnecessary plastics

15:15 Ben Humphries - Director, Architype

Ben Humphries is a Director for leading sustainable architect practice Architype. Ben will discuss how the practice as developed low plastic, low carbon specifications on its projects, such as at the Enterprise Centre at University of East Anglia.

15:35 Refreshments and exhibition

Session 3: Plastics and Performance

16:05 Scott Pearce - Operational Policy and Development, Kent Fire and Rescue Service

Scott Pearce will discuss the topic of exposure to fire and toxicity in buildings; and how fire and rescue services are mitigating exposure to toxic substances. Scott will also give overview of cancer rates for fire fighters; can this be linked directly to toxic substance exposure? Finally, Scott will update us on the work of the National Contaminants Forum, hosted by the Home Office.

16:25 Professor Anna Stec - Fire Chemistry and Toxicity, University of Central Lancashire

Fire toxicity of building products

We are also delighted to welcome back Professor Anna Stec, one of the leading experts on fire chemistry & toxicity and an expert witness for the Grenfell Tower inquiry.

  • Fire toxicity is the biggest cause of death and injury in fires, but is unregulated.
  • Material composition has a big effect on fire toxicity.
  • The emphasis on insulation over fire safety has left the Building Regulations behind modern building practice.
  • Assessing fire toxicity is easy, and an essential component of fire hazard assessment.

Closing session: Conclusions and the way forward

16.45 Gary Newman - Executive Chair, ASBP

Gary Newman will conclude the conference and will discuss the possible solutions. What are our next steps? What are the alternatives, and what are the 'low hanging fruit'? Timber windows, thermally modified timber, natural insulation?

17.00 Drinks and networking plus ASBP Awards judge's overall winner and audience winner announcement

19.30 Close

London South Bank University
28/02 - 28/02/2019
 Plastics in Construction
 Sky Ocean Rescue
 Parley for the Oceans
 sustainable developpement

Author of the page

  • Richard Broad

    Technical and Projects Associate


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