Sustainable Building & Living

Focus on Plastics

How can Sustainable Chemistry assist in building – considering global megatrends?

The role of plastic materials in construction has become indispensable in the past decades with regard to the global megatrends urbanisation, climate, health, environment and affordable housing.Plastics have been very attractive for their specific properties, easy handling, availability, and low price. Both new and recycled from waste, they can play a major role in sustainable development if managed well. ISC3 has coordinated a study in which experts from science, public authorities, NGOs, and industry address various questions around ‘Sustainability of plastics as building materials’.


The first ISC3 workstream, on polymer applications in construction has been initiated in 2018. To prepare the collaborative working process, a preliminary study with a thematic screening and strategic recommendations has been conducted by the ISC3 exploring the challenges and opportunities in this field.
Based on this pre-study the ISC3 triggered a dialogue process to engage with stakeholders from different sectors and to develop recommendations on the sustainable management of plastics in building and living as well as on potential fields for Sustainable Chemistry innovations.

Leading Questions

  • How to drive construction products towards sustainability in sense of SDGs?
  • What are the most relevant innovative areas and potentials for Sustainable Chemistry in the field of Building, Living and Plastics?

Key findings of the Workstream report

The facts

  • About 20 % of building materials are made from plastics. The plastic building materials industry is now the second pillar in the plastics industry, after packaging.
  • The global population will increase by 40 % by the end of the century. As a result, more than two billion homes will need to be built worldwide. In the regions with the largest growth, urban development is largely dominated by the informal sector (self-builders).
  • Decades of linear, toxic, and wasteful production of building materials are the building sector`s legacy.
  • Additives in plastic materials have serious health consequences, such as cancer or negative effects on the reproductive, cognitive, or immune systems. Burning polymers release toxic fumes and residues. There are no regulations on the emission of smoke in the majority of cases.

Impact on the SDGs

Plastic materials have become an important resource in the building industry in the past decades. Yet, the impacts of the current life cycle of plastic building materials are not in line with the 2030 SDG Agenda. While plastic building materials can help to reach some goals, such as the reduction of the energy consumption of buildings, they can at the same time conflict with other goals, such as the protection of health.

Our solutions

  • Develop sustainable solutions specific to each region, based on climate, available raw materials, and other local conditions.
  • Support the informal sector in developing and emerging economies through regulations, financial incentives, social programs, and training.
  • Incorporate life cycle analysis in the design and planning phase, which helps to estimate the impacts of a material´s extraction of natural resources, production, and transportation.
  • Deconstruct - not demolish - buildings. This is essential for a closed-circle building economy, together with take-back systems and a market for deconstructed materials.
  • Limit the amount of hazardous additives. And for substances of high concern, replace hazardous additives with non-hazardous additives.
  • Use materials made from residual biomass or secondary raw materials, which have a low rate of pollution when they are disposed of.
See our Onepager

The Report

The workstream report Plastics in Sustainable Building & Living was released online in January 2021. Due to many Covid-related delays of the professional international conferences in the field, the report was presented at the International Conference on Green Building (ICoGB) 2021 on September 3d-5th 2021 as well as at the 9th Annual

International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD) on September 20th-21st 2021.
The report is available in several formats that can be found in the Further Resources section

Workstream Events

The series of workshops, online-surveys and stakeholder dialogues took place in 2019 and 2020.
International experts from the private and public sectors as well as from academia and the civil society contributed to the report and reflected the different interests and expectations.


  • Resilience & Urbanisation at AchemAsia, Shanghai, PR China, 21 May 2019
  • Resilient Cities 2019, interactive stand at the ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability) conference Bonn, Germany, 26 - 28 June 2019
  • Affordable Housing & Urbanisation at Nairobi Innovation Week, Nairobi, Kenya, 12 June 2019
  • Protection of Health and the Environment at SBE 2019, Graz, Austria, 13 September 2019
  • Energy & Resources in Building Lifecycle at Green Build 2019, Atlanta, USA, 22 November 2019
A Woman shows a Flipchart in front of a Group