The government’s decision to phase out coal-fired power stations by 2025 may seem to have little relevance to plasterboard. In fact, it will have far-reaching implications for future manufacturing of gypsum products. Siniat’s head of EHS and sustainability, Steve Hemmings, explains.
For many years, by-products from coal-fired power stations have been a high-quality materials source for construction products, including plasterboard. In 2014, over 75 per cent of these UK construction products were manufactured using Desulphurised Gypsum (DSG) – a by-product of the process that removes sulphur dioxide from the flue gases of coal-fired power stations. With this source of gypsum coming to an end, the plasterboard industry must rethink its resources.
Fortunately, gypsum can be infinitely recycled, and there is a major opportunity for our industry to recover this valuable material from plasterboard waste and reuse it to make new products. Siniat has been involved in Gypsum to Gypsum (G2G), an EU LIFE-funded, European research project exploring how the plasterboard industry can embrace the circular economy – a concept where materials are used for as long as possible and then recovered at the end of their life for re-use.
The study has three clear recommendations for this.
Firstly, contractors, demolition companies, recyclers and manufacturers must collaborate to make closed-loop recycling of gypsum a reality. Secondly, we need to deconstruct, rather than demolish, buildings at the end of their life to prevent contamination and help salvage gypsum for recycling. Thirdly, deconstruction audits for buildings over 1,000 sq metres should be mandatory, not just best practice. Produced prior to a building’s construction and demolition, these detailed inventories will support the recovery of recyclable materials at the end of a building’s lifecycle.
It won’t be an easy process of change, but implementing the processes needed for large-scale gypsum recycling will reduce the environmental impact of buildings, and could even offer financial savings. G2G has found that controlled deconstruction is cost effective and offers reductions in materials extraction and life-cycle carbon emissions.
We have to move from a demolition culture to a dismantling culture to ensure we recover valuable materials like gypsum used in plasterboard, and use them again for new building products. It’s time for our industry to go full circle.
Siniat Head of EHS and sustainability