Plasterboard is one of the most versatile products in the construction industry and it is used widely because of this. It is made from simple, readily available materials and is easy to produce. Convenience and versatility mean it is used for wall linings, partition, acoustic barriers, fire protection and more.
However, it has several serious environmental impacts which are becoming increasingly well known in the industry. These issues come at every stage of the process from production to disposal, and have prompted many to start looking for an effective plasterboard replacement.
It is estimated that around 270m m2 of plasterboard is produced each year for use in the UK, and that this takes 3m tonnes of gypsum to make. Almost two thirds of this gypsum is new product according to GreenSpec, making plasterboard an extremely resource-intensive product at a time when we must minimise resource extraction as much as possible. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes a year are mined in UK locations including the Pennines, the Midlands and East Sussex – an industry which is nowhere close to being sustainable.
As we move towards a world where sustainable construction materials are all important, we must also consider what happens beyond production. In this regard, plasterboard also scores poorly.
It is believed that as much as 7.5% of all plasterboard is wasted before it is even used, and then even more is lost during construction due to over-ordering, off-cuts, water damage, transportation damage and more. Overall it is estimated that the UK wastes 1m tonnes of plasterboard a year – all of which becomes a problem when thinking about correctly disposing of it.
The first issue is with regards to the vast majority of plasterboard which ends up going to landfill. However, it cannot go to any landfill. The Environment Agency updated its guidance in 2021, saying: “You must not send gypsum-based waste (for example, plasterboard) to a landfill cell that accepts biodegradable waste.
“You must separate it for reuse or recovery to comply with the waste hierarchy. Where you cannot separate it, you must send mixed waste that contains gypsum to a landfill cell that contains no biodegradable waste, for example a stable non-reactive hazardous waste cell.”
Plasterboard is classed as hazardous waste due to the gypsum which can create hydrogen sulphide – a toxic gas – when placed with biodegradable waste. This gas can be odorous, poisonous and flammable, which makes it tricky to dispose of.
Even when plasterboard is recycled at specialist facilities, it is an inefficient process. In the best case scenario, almost 10% of what makes up plasterboard cannot be recycled and becomes permanent waste. That may not sound like a lot, but when you consider we are talking about hundreds of millions of tonnes annually, suddenly the problem becomes more serious.
The difficulty of reusing plasterboard in situ means that almost all plasterboard produced, purchased and installed has a limited shelf life. If internal layouts change, the plasterboard must be ripped out and replaced. This is not a sustainable product and it is time to start thinking about alternatives if the industry is serious about the environment, which is needs to be.
Modern advanced wall systems like Specwall offer an answer to the problem. Acting as a plasterboard replacement – as well as a blockwork replacement – Specwall is an example of a system which eliminates many of the weaknesses of plasterboard while retaining its strengths.
Specwall produces an extremely low amount of waste during both the manufacturing and installation stages. Overall, only 0.5% of the product is wasted and sent to landfill. This makes Specwall notably superior in this regard to other comparable products like plasterboard.
Furthermore, the nature of Specwall as a modern, factory-produced product means that the panels are designed and built to size in the first place, negating a huge source of plasterboard waste. When panels are the right shape and size to begin with, very little cutting is needed. If adjustments are needed on site, the off-cuts can be reused in situ or on future projects. The installation process is simple and fast.
Similarly, Specwall panels are water permeable and therefore resistant to water and mould damage. If it gets wet then it does not need to be discarded and replace like plasterboard, making it a more versatile product. It can be stored in a development, or even installed, before it is water tight, offering the potential for programme reductions and innovative building practises.
The precise nature of Specwall panels and their resistance to damage also prevents the need to over-order in the first place. You are far less likely to need a stock of extra panels for replacements or to fill in gaps, meaning that less material is required and extracted altogether.
Finally, if the layout of a building needs to change post-completion, Specwall panels are fully demountable and can be reused in their entirety by cutting and regluing the panels. As well as cutting down on the quantity of materials you need, this means that Specwall has a longer life span overall and is less likely to be sent to landfill in future. In a time when building re-use is being prioritised, using Specwall and having the ability to redesign internal layouts to meet changing needs is vital for future-proofing your development.
Using plasterboard can cost you time, money and impact the sustainability of your building. By using an alternative like Specwall, you can keep most of the benefits of plasterboard at the same time as eliminating its weaknesses.
Want to learn more about Specwall? Get in touch with our team today by clicking here.