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Why & How Polyurethane is Environmentally Friendly for the Construction Industry

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NATIONAL REPORT—“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”—Robert Swan

As a whole, the construction industry is aiming to be more environmentally friendly and one of the ways they are doing this is by utilizing polyurethane.

In the majority of cases, polyurethane can replace the use of rubber, silicone, and plastic. Numerous companies have removed the use of plastic in their processes and products as much as possible.

Why is polyurethane the most popular option? Because it has a lot of the same functionalities as the products above, but it is considered environmentally friendly, too, as it is non-toxic.

Polyurethane is a polymer formed by the reaction of isocyanates and polyols. This reaction gives it the ability to be moldable, made different consistencies, rigid, and be customized to fit particular specs—like having a high tolerance for abnormally hot temperatures or be abrasion-resistant. The list of customizations polyurethane can be made to do is endless, which is one of the reasons it is a great alternative to plastic and other materials. Plastic isn’t nearly as versatile and rubber and silicone aren’t as durable as polyurethane.

Polyurethane is used in many different industries and for an assortment of applications. It comes in many forms such as foam, solids, liquids. In the construction industry, polyurethane is the material choice in a lot of instances.

We will be diving into how polyurethane is used in the construction industry, along with why and how it is environmentally friendly.

How Polyurethane is Used in the Construction Industry

Since polyurethane is such a versatile material, it is used in many aspects of construction as an environmentally friendly option.

Insulation—You’ve probably seen workers on a construction site spraying the yellow or cream-colored foam in-between the wood planks during a building construction—this is polyurethane! In foam form, polyurethane is perfect for insulating and air-sealing buildings and homes.

Using a polymer product for this will help reduce air leakage which in return lowers costs and greenhouse emissions. As the foam hardens over time, it can also help the building’s strength and resistance to natural elements like heavy winds.

Tools & Machinery Parts—Polyurethane is commonly used as an alternative to rubber, which is used on automobile and machinery parts. Naturally, polyurethane has a high tolerance for wear and tear which is one of the reasons it is a great material for items such as polyurethane rods, bushings, tires, and wheels. It can withstand a lot of heat and a lot of damage while upholding its composition. It is usually placed around steel parts to protect the parts from deteriorating and can last almost 25 years.

Polyurethane is also used to make tools used on construction sites, like mallets, because they don’t cause damage when they are being struck against something else. In construction, a mallet is used to hammer something into the ground or into another material. When a polyurethane-head mallet is used instead of a steel hammer, it will limit the damage to surrounding materials. Steel striking steel has the potential to cause detrimental damage.

Binding Agent & Adhesive—Another area in construction where polyurethane is the material of choice is when it comes to adhesives. In liquid form, polyurethane works as a strong glue and is best used for binding wood to each other or to other materials. A prevalent use of this in the construction industry is a caulking tube format. It is also water-resistant.

Why & How Polyurethane is Environmentally Friendly

Doesn’t Harm the Environment—You may be asking yourself “how polyurethane is eco-friendly but plastic is not.” And the answer is because polyurethane doesn’t consist of any chemicals that affect endocrine and hormone systems, and it does not contribute to the PH change in soil or water. In other words, it has no negative impact on the environment. It does not leak and contaminate into water nor does it corrode healthy soil.

The image that automatically appears in your head when you hear “plastic waste” is probably of a heaping lump of plastic trash at a landfill or the numerous amount of bottles you see floating in the ocean. Of these scenes and of the waste we produce, 95 percent of it is thermoplastic, whereas polyurethane comprises only 2 percent of this waste.

Lasts a Long Time—As mentioned earlier, a polyurethane part can last upwards of 25 years, depending on the amount of abrasion and heavy stress it goes through. This makes it environmentally friendly because that means it doesn’t have to be replaced and thrown out as often as a plastic or a rubber part would.

Can be Recycled—Another reason polyurethane is environmentally friendly is because it can be recycled and used again. Oftentimes, polyurethane can be recycled into a very similar product that it was originally made for. Since polyurethane is able to take on many forms, it is easy to melt down and use a mold for discarded materials to make a new part or product.

Limited Waste in Production—The manufacturing industry as a whole has been making conscious efforts to limit their waste and become more eco-friendly. One of the ways they’re doing this is by using 3D printing. By using this route to make polyurethane parts, there is no access material to be thrown away or even reused.

To put this more in perspective, imagine if you were cutting out Valentine’s hearts from a piece of rectangular paper. After you’ve cut out all the hearts from your paper, you would have a bunch of extra pieces of paper in random sizes that you’d have to throw away because there is no way to mold it together to make more hearts.

By using the exact specifications to make each piece of polyurethane product, there won’t be any access material, thus limiting the waste!

All industries can benefit from switching their efforts to be more environmentally friendly. Thankfully, the construction industry is already on the cutting-edge side of this initiative and will continue to find ways to limit their waste and maximize their recycling efforts.

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