Published On: Fri, Jul 25th, 2014

The battle over “green” plastics continues in the building & construction industry

This week, David Levine, CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council, took the opportunity to rake the plastics industry  over the coals while SPI and other plastics  industry groups held their “fly-in” in Washington, D.C. In Levine’s commentary, Plastic Industry’s Faulty Lobbying Agenda that appeared in this week’s issue of The Hill, he chided the industry for what he called “a brazen attempt to block progress.”

Levine refers to the plastics industry’s opposition to the LEED v4 (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) building standards, and believes that the industry’s time would be better spent on an agenda to “move away from toxic chemicals  and toward safer chemicals and products using safer plastics.”

The battle over “green” plastics continues in the building & construction industry

The battle over “green” plastics continues in the building & construction industry

This is an argument that is almost as old as the LEED standard itself. I can remember when I first began covering the International Builders Show (IBS) a number of years ago, there were a number of presentations from builders over whether or not to even certify any buildings that contained plastics construction materials .

Many would like to disallow a LEED certification to any building containing plastic materials, primarily because in the minds of many, anything “plastic” is a horrible material. The LEED competitor, Green Globes, has its detractors as well, who accuse it of pandering to not only the plastics industry, but to ‘big wood’ (the lumber industry) as well. We certainly can’t have both – the plastics and lumber industries in cahoots in the “green” building industry!

An article that appeared two years ago (July 19, 2012) in GreenBiz.com, Will the Plastics Industry Kill LEED? noted that a preliminary draft of LEED v4 that was circulating at that standard was “changed to provide only credit for using good materials not avoiding ones.”

Donald Rosato, president of PlastiSource Inc., in the first of a four-part series in MultiBriefs beginning Oct. 7, 2013, wrote: “The Green Building Council which updates LEED standards periodically is proposing to include a ‘chemical avoidance’ provision. Industry groups argue the proposal will discourage builders from using certain products that promote energy efficiency. Those products could include heat reflecting roofing membranes, PVC piping and foam insulation – all of which promote energy efficiency, so stay tuned.”

SPI’s concerns over LEED standards have always been that the use of any type of plastics in a building project would lead to builders “deselecting” plastic products. That could be hugely detrimental to the industry that has provided huge technological advancements to the building and construction market, leading to more energy efficient buildings, products that are lighter in weight than wood and don’t need painting, staining or varnishing like wood, and aren’t subject to termites like wood.

Every year when I attend the IBS, I’m always amazed by the sheer numbers of building products made from various polymer materials. Many of these products use recycled – both post-consumer and post-industrial – plastics which must count for something in a LEED building. Many of these products are also recyclable themselves – which means that builders don’t take the scraps or damaged building materials to the landfill, but to a recycling facility to be made into new products.

Additionally, these plastic products have lower overall costs to manufacture in terms of energy and shipping (due to lighter weight) than many traditional building products. And the good thing is that consumers are realizing all the benefits of the many plastic building products for both interior and exterior uses.

Builders, who were once resistant to alternative building materials due to some differences in construction methods, are now embracing these products. They’re learning it’s not so much different to put up polypropylene slate roofing shingles, as it is the actual slate. The same goes for decking, railing and fencing products, as well as the various decorative interior trim and crown molding products.

It’s big business, Mr. Levine, and its good business; it’s “green” business. SPI and the other plastics industry trade groups whose members attended the Washington D.C. fly-in this past week are there to protect their businesses from people who would like to see plastics – and all the “green” advantages of plastics – gone from the planet.

As for moving “toward safer chemical and products using safer plastics,” I’d have to point out that the industry has already made great strides in this direction. The problem is people who want all the advantages of plastics with none of the ‘ingredients’ that it takes to make these amazing materials.

But I’m sure that Mr. Levine has no plastic products in his house. He probably lives in a log cabin. Oops! Chalk up one for the lumber lobby!

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