On a mission to eradicate plastics in construction

By Neal Maxwell
September 16, 2020

Interior fit out and construction specialist Neal Maxwell has worked in the industry for over 30 years. Now he is on a mission to eradicate plastics in the built environment.

In 2018, I went on the trip of a lifetime to the arctic to experience some of the most spectacular landscape known to man and – if I was lucky – maybe catch sight of a polar bear or seal in their natural habitat.

But what I learned on that life-changing voyage was how man-made pollution is destroying that environment at a rapid pace.

On returning to Merseyside I approached the University of Liverpool intending to take a degree in marine biology. My aim was to learn more about the environment and what can be done to save our marine life and, ultimately, ourselves.

In the course of these discussions, I learned that the construction sector was the second biggest user of plastic after the packaging industry. Research already suggests significant impacts not only on the environment, but on social and health, as well as economic costs. Looking at all plastic products, the reality is that only 9% are recycled.

Determined to address this challenge, Changing Streams CIC was born as a partnership between the University of Liverpool and industry with the aim of eradicating the use of plastic starting with the construction industry.

Together with leading researchers from the University of Liverpool, and with architect Dr Gareth Abrahams from the university’s School of Environmental Science, it’s aim is to identify sustainable alternatives to plastic and encourage their use by architects, designers, developers and contractors, to stop plastic becoming the asbestos of the 21st century.

Forward-thinking sustainable design, construction and materials manufacturers are being invited to sign up to the Changing Streams Charter and commit to implementing its values, and work towards creating a future free from plastic.

Additionally, through extensive research and dedicated PhD programs, the team will work with the university and key industry partners to develop an interactive knowledge platform to enable architects, designers, and all professionals involved with commissioning buildings to understand and identify the extent of plastics as a component in building materials.

It will also lead on material innovation, working with manufacturers to reduce or eradicate plastic from their products and champion the reduction of plastic packaging and waste throughout the sector.

To achieve these aims Changing Streams is building a global network/community bringing together professionals, industry and governments to drive the changes and legislation necessary to solve this crisis.

Through its membership scheme, it is offering companies the opportunity to become a Changing Stream’s partner which has its benefits, including R & D Tax credits, expert workshops and webinars, market intelligence and sharing of best practice. The funds raised from membership will support the ongoing research and development of new sustainable material alternatives.

Crucially, Changing Streams has developed a series of interactive online workshops to raise awareness of the environmental, social, health and economic impacts of current and future dependence on plastic within construction. The key aim – to inspire and instigate change.