AFTER WATER, CONCRETE IS THE MOST WIDELY USED MATERIAL ON EARTH
It’s great our government has banned “single-use” plastics but we should be looking to the most widely used building material on the planet — concrete — as one of the major keys to the solution.
The cement industry consumes more concrete every 2 years than all the plastic produced over the past 60 years. Without decarbonizing the civil industry, we stand little chance of achieving the Paris goals.
WE CAN NOW PUT AN END TO THIS CONSUMPTION
Because of its ability to endure, concrete serves as the foundation of modern life, but – like any good thing in excess – it can create more problems than it solves. For hundreds of years, we have been willing to accept the environmental downside of concrete, in return for the benefits, but each bag of concrete tips the world closer to ecological collapse.
The road construction and maintenance sector is one of the worst contributors, consuming concrete and creating carbon waste on a daily basis for repairs. This violates the Paris agreement on climate change, under which every government in the world agreed that annual carbon emissions from the cement industry should fall by at least 16% by 2030. It also puts a crushing weight on the ecosystems that are essential for human wellbeing.
Ironically, it is a new-age Smart plastic (made entirely from toxic waste from the production of petroleum) that provides the solution
WE CAN NOW SUBSTANTIALLY IMPROVE THE SAFETY OF OUR ROAD-WORKERS
Road workers are risking death on a daily basis spending hours working in dangerous traffic digging up concrete footings, risking injury or death from underground services. As populations grow so does the amount of traffic on our roads, the congestion, and the number of underground services, substantially increasing the risk of workplace injury
In addition to traffic and underground obstacles, roadworkers are facing a growing risk of skin cancer with rapidly rising levels radiation but the most insidious risk comes from working with highly toxic concrete dust.
THOUSANDS ARE NEEDLESSLY DYING EVERY YEAR
Though it might not be obvious to the millions of people who spend their days surrounded by this apparently innocuous material, concrete costs the health – and the lives – of thousands of construction workers every year. Similar to asbestos problems of the past century, the chief culprit is silica dust.
Silica dust is 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, and exposure can lead to many health problems: it is highly toxic, prompting eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation, and contains calcium oxide, corrosive to human tissue, and chromium, which can prompt severe allergic reactions. Without proper protection, it can scar the lungs and lead to silicosis, which is associated with chronic wheezing, arthritis, cancer asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, tuberculosis, kidney disease and reduced life expectancy.
Despite this knowledge road workers dig up and dispose of concrete waste on a daily basis. Efforts are currently focused on recycling, but instead of recycling concrete we need to make it more resilient, and when possible, we need to make it re-usable.
If we are to achieve our goal of sustainable development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. (Bruntland, UN, 1987) the single most important factor is to design more resilient roads and urban developments and put an end to the on-going consumption of concrete.
With growing world-wide populations concentrated in urban regions, we urgently need to put an end to these resource and dangerous maintenance practices that are putting lives at risk and consuming valuable resources. Without decarbonizing the civil industry, we stand little chance of achieving the Paris goals.
Current methods provide no future benefit, each year consuming more and more of these vital resources. Recycling concrete is a costly process (and the concrete is ultimately destined for landfill) but to become sustainable we must make concrete foundations re-usable.
We can now build Smart self-healing roads and urban developments and we can heal existing cities one foundation at a time, or we can continue to do business as usual and leave it to future generations (for whom these problems will be intensified) to clean up our mess.