The Attenborough Effect

Article written by James Higgins published originally in the March edition of  H&V News Magazine.

For anyone thinking about the environmental impact of heating and hot water over the past 20 years or so, it has been natural to think primarily around the energy that is being consumed (typically gas or electricity) to produce heat and where it may come from. Today we rely predominately on fossil fuel, but in the future our energy will hopefully come from cost-effective low carbon alternatives.

Of course some people do think about the use of resources and subsequent waste produced as a result of plumbing and heating activities, including legislators. In this regard a number of legislative measures have been introduced to encourage manufacturers and distributors to reduce, re-use and recycle materials used in production or from appliances at end of life. On site, less waste means lower disposal costs and I am sure that most plumbers are aware of the potential value of some items salvaged from waste streams for re-use or recycling.

However, few of us think about the volume of plastic used and thrown away every day. Since its invention in 1941 , polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic has become one of the most common packaging materials due to its convenience. Low weight and production costs enable easier and faster packaging and reduce transport costs. It has been estimated that, as of 2015, a total of 8.3 billion tons had been manufactured in the world since its invention.

As plastic has become prevalent in everyday life, so has plastic waste been increasingly found in the environment due to littering and inadequacies in waste management. Although knowledge about this issue in public realm dates back to the 1970s, it has only recently become a hot topic in the British media following the BBC Blue Planet series and surfaced on the UK Government agenda under Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

With the production of a 25 year Environment Plan by Gove’s DEFRA Department in January this year, action now seems certain to tackle the issue of single-use plastics. Measures under discussion include a tax on all single use plastics and sector specific interventions including a 25 pence tax on take-away hot drink cups (known as the latte levy) and a bottle-deposit return scheme which has been observed to operate successfully elsewhere in Europe.

Alongside doing our bit as individuals, perhaps the heating industry has an opportunity to play a positive role in tackling this issue. The wider construction sector seems to understand the concept of (if not always succeeding in delivering) the circular economy and to talk often about this subject, however I was able to find only a few public heating sector specific case studies. I am sure that there are many fantastic initiatives taking place at individual companies and it would be great to see some of these stories brought together with a contribution to the national debate.

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See the original article from H&V here