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Feature: Building with eco products

With the weight of expectation well and truly on the construction industry to raise its game when it comes to sustainability, the demand for environmentally responsible building products is on the increase. The recent announcement from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) that it will be focusing on construction and demolition brings to the fore the range of opportunities in this sector for recycled products.

This drive is not just restricted to niche builds and token gestures — mainstream builders and specifiers are now on the lookout for ways to improve the environmental credentials of their projects.

To meet this demand, Visqueen Building Products has developed a new type of damp-proof membrane (DPM) produced from 100% post-use polythene waste — the EcoMembrane. As a division of bpi recycled pro-ducts, Visqueen recently achieved increased prominence with the EcoMembrane as a finalist in the Recycled Product of the Year category at the 2005 National Recycling Awards.

With the objective of reducing the amount of polythene waste going to landfill, the company began a testing and certification programme part-funded by WRAP under a scheme aimed to encourage more recycled building products to the construction market.

With a number of sites across the UK, bpi is able to recycle in excess of 70,000 tonnes of plastic each year, and it is hoped that the EcoMembrane will link increased levels of packaging waste with the key function of house building. The product contains no virgin LDPE or factory reprocessed waste, and the colour used to pigment the membrane is a sustainable source of post-use polymer.

But will ingrained assumptions that products made from recycled material are in some way inferior hinder the use of the EcoMembrane and products like it in the construction industry?

Gareth Grindal, marketing executive at Visqueen Building Products, thinks not. “Five years ago, there certainly would have been a problem around perceptions of quality of the material, and I’m not even sure this product would have been possible then,” he says. “Now the tide has turned, and there is increasing pressure on businesses to do the right thing when it comes to sustainable building.”

By working with builders’ merchant Travis Perkins, which is promoting the product through its network, as sales grow during this build-up phase, Visqueen expects 3,000 tonnes of post-use polythene to be diverted from landfill. The EcoMembrane has already been specified in a wide range of buildings, from flagship environmental developments such as the Earthships, dwellings designed to have minimal impact on the environment, to major retail developments.

Put to the test

It’s is all very well for companies to be seen to be doing the right thing as far as the environment is concerned, but unless the product performs it’s a non-starter. As damp-proof membranes perform a critical role in a building’s structure, Visqueen needed to show that the EcoMembrane had the same levels of strength and robustness as traditional membranes.

According to Gareth Grindal, EcoMembrane’s entrance into the marketplace was boosted by the fact that it has been tested and certified by the Building Research Establishment to a new European Test Standard, BS EN 13967:2004.

“The BRE certification helps assert the fact that this product will perform,” says Grindal. “The material it is being mad

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