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THE EUROPEAN MARKETS FOR PLASTICS BUILDING PRODUCTS

Of all the applications of plastics, building and construction is the second most important area, with a volume of 23 %, only coming second to packaging applications. Some 9000 billion ? a year are spent in Western Europe for construction applications and the construction activity amounts to 11 million employees or 7% of employment in Europe. If plastics products were made out of traditional building materials, their weight would probably be as much as ten times higher. The average working life of all plastics applications in construction is 35 years but, depending on the specific application, this has a wide variation between 5 years (such as wallpaper) and 80 years (such as pipes).

The oldest plastic products, manufactured on a large scale and used in the building industry (such as pipes), have been in use for 60 years and are still functioning as well as on the very first day. With an assumed average working life of 35 years, there is technical depreciation of 2.85 % per year. Plastics in the construction industry are thus extremely economical with resources. Environmental balance sheets consider not only economical use of resources, but also the cost of maintenance during the life of the applications. Since most plastics are either easy to maintain or require no maintenance at all, they also achieve first-class marks in their life-cycle evaluation.

Compared with alternative materials in the building industry, plastics usually do better in environmental assessments. In addition to saving resources, the low maintenance cost throughout their life cycle and good recyclability of many plastics used in construction have a positive influence on these assessments.

In particular, the materials used in monoplastic building products such as pipes and window frames are recycled at the end of their working life and the recycled product is used in high-quality pipes and window frames as specified in the relevant standards and norms.

In addition to the ecological advantages of plastics, they also make a great contribution to the saving of energy. Plastic foams are used widely for thermal insulation of house walls, floors, roofing, pipes and many other applications. Without such plastic thermal insulation, the high targets adopted by the world community for CO2 reduction would not be realised.

Construction profiles such as window frames achieve high thermal insulation values and energy savings in winter time and, at the same time, these insulation systems protect the building from over-heating in summer. This improves the quality of living accommodation and reduces the need for air-conditioning.

Plastic insulation systems can also make a significant contribution to noise protection and noise insulation, thus again adding to the quality of life.

After pipes and insulation, the third major application area is for wallcovering and flooring. Flooring, in particular those made of PVC, have been in use for 60 years, and have proved their worth in domestic areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, corridors and children's rooms. They have also made a very valuable contribution in public areas, such as hospitals, sick-rooms, operating theatres, schools, municipal buildings, offices and sports centres.

The fourth-largest application area is window frames, which are made almost exclusively out of PVC. This is an application that has developed relatively recently (since only 1965) but it has secured more than a 50 % share of window systems in the major industrialised countries of Europe.

Although the life-cycle calculation for window frames indicates an average life of 40 years, the actual technical end of their working life has not yet been reached and, to date, few used window frames have yet been returned. Recycling of window frames has been developed for incorporating parts of the recyclate in new profiles.

With the exception of insulation and board applications, PVC is by far the most-used plastic in all application areas in building and construction

Plastics also offer glass-like transparency, abrasion resistance, resistance to sunlight, waterproofing, resistance to low temperatures and resistance to acids, chemicals and washing and cleaning agents. These are just a few of the outstanding properties that various plastics can offer in specific applications. Many plastics are reused where their specific properties can be profitably employed.

EuPC's mission is to create a good trading environment for Plastics Converters in Europe.

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