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Feature: Getting onboard

Affordable housing, regeneration developments and growth strategies: the UK is currently rife with construction and building developments in a bid to boost local communities, close the north-south economic divide and address housing shortages.

But with the announcement of any construction project, news
of the environmental price always follows close behind. Interest in making construction more sustainable is growing as are the com-panies offering new solutions
for waste minimisation, reuse and recycling.

In February 2004, Matthew Purdie and Marcus Pearson set up Plasterboard Recycling UK (PBRUK) to provide a cost-effective, environmentally sound alternative to the disposal of plasterboard waste. Both Purdie and Pearson have been involved in construction for more than 15 years and are directors of environmental consultancy MP2 Environmental.

“We had been asked by a client about dealing with plasterboard and, having done some research, found there was nothing in the market but sending it to landfill,” explains Purdie. “During the next five years we researched how it could be recycled, what the costs and end uses were.”
The end result was PBRUK, which began actively trading in October, with its first contract in March.

Plasterboard comprises 95% gypsum and 5% paper, with the major constituents of gypsum being calcium (23%) and sulphate (21%). If gypsum is mixed with biodeg--radable municipal waste in a landfill, the sulphate breaks down to form hydrogen sulphide, which is corrosive and can cause odour problems for homes that are close to landfills.

As a result, since July 16 2005, the legal requirement for the disposal of waste plasterboard is that it must go in separately engineered containment cells, much like asbestos, on non-hazardous landfill sites. Purdie is aware of only one site in Hull that is currently taking high sulphate-bearing waste, and this in turn affects landfill disposal and transport costs.

Purdie estimates that between 10 and 15% of the total volume of plasterboard used on a project will be wasted. So, as an alternative to landfill, the company provides a range of services that includes the collection, storage and reprocessing of the plasterboard waste at its north London facility.

PBRUK focuses on capturing new construction plasterboard waste because it is more likely to be uncontaminated, rather than demolition waste. “Skips are brought into the facility and anything that is not plasterboard is removed,” says Purdie. “We process the plasterboard to remove paper from the gypsum core and are left with a product that we have end use
markets for.”

While all this may sound quite straightforward, it
has taken Purdie and Pearson a long time to get to
this point. They originally thought that it could all
be ground down for use in agriculture, but when this turned out not to be the case, the production of high-quality gypsum became the focus.

“There are strong markets for gypsum but not for just any kind,” says Purdie. “We pay a lot of attention to quality control, and have spent more than a year getting agreements in place and proving that we can produce this on a repeatable basis. We are now sending gypsum back to two of the three main plasterboard manufacturers.”
Providing skips for waste segregation, transportation and recycling

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