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Urban answer to deforestation

The British building industry is suffering a supply crisis. Everything from roof tiles to steel, timber andinsulation is scarce and as a consequence becoming increasingly expensive. As it stands timber currently costs 80% more than it did in November and looks set to continue rising.

Every challenge brings with it the opportunity to explore innovative solutions.

A combination of Covid, Brexit and the Suez crisis back in March are partly to blame. Pest infestation of forests in Europe and Canada and a tightening of export restrictions have also exacerbated the situation and global demand for timber continues to increase due to the strong economic rebound. In the US lumber prices have gone up over 250% in the past year.

Yet every challenge brings with it the opportunity to explore innovative solutions and this is what a group of experts in their field have achieved. By weaving recycling into the heart of the solution, a collaborative project, spearheaded by WRAP Cymru is tapping into the recycling stream and harvesting an entirely new and abundant type of forest – the urban one.

Sustainability experts Nextek together with composite decking manufacturer, Ecodek set out to solve two burning issues with one solution, reducing the world’s reliance on timber as a primary building material and drawing from the abundance of urban waste that is channeled to our recycling plants every day.

The technology they have developed recycles otherwise awkward to recycle materials such as plastic laminated papers, single-use coffee cups and cartons and turns them into a unique composite that has endless possibilities as effective, durable and sustainable building materials. As it stands this cutting edge new wood composite material exceeds the technical requirements of timber. 

Bettina Gilbert, Programme Manager WRAP Cymru, which delivers the scheme on behalf of the Welsh Government, says that finding innovative new uses for materials at their end of life is a hugely important way to take the pressure off the natural world. And as a Gilbert points out, it is vital to give projects like the Nextek and Ecodek partnership the space to develop, test and introduce new products which keep resources in use for longer. 

Removing this waste material and giving it a commercial use is good for both the planet, and hugely beneficial to businesses too. Key to success is stimulating demand and with less than 15% of non-packaging plastics used by manufacturers in Wales made from recycled material, there’s plenty of scope for rapid growth for businesses at the forefront of the movement to increase the sustainability of products manufactured here.

Harvesting a ‘forest’ that is otherwise ending up in landfill is very timely given the construction sector’s woes, however, the critical issue here is that this will go a long way towards saving our natural forests around the world. The recent tragic floods experienced in Northern Europe are yet another poignant reminder of the urgency to manage our resources and our waste in transformational new ways if we are to reduce our carbon footprint.

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Professor Kosior’s expertise in the plastics recycling sector spans 46 years, split between 23 years as an academic and 23 years working in plastic packaging recycling. He has been instrumental in designing numerous modern recycling plants and has achieved a number of patented recycling breakthroughs. In 2004 Professor Kosior founded Nextek Ltd to provide consultancy services to assist in the strategic approaches to sustainable packaging, waste reduction and minimal life cycle impact. He is involved with many industry associations, universities, and research organisations and is a Fellow of the Society of Plastics Engineering and Fellow of the Institute of Materials which awarded him the Prince Philip Medal for “Polymers in the Service of Man” in 2019. He also provides support to organisations such as the Earth Champions Foundation, Plastics Oceans, PEW Foundation Trust on the Project: Stopping Ocean Plastics.

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