Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle: A Sustainable Approach for Formwork

Everyone has heard of the three R’s of recycling: reduce, reuse, recycle. For the construction industry, there is perhaps a fourth R: repair. Using sustainable materials, increasing reuse, refurbishment, and recycling, and reducing material use and wastage has become an important area of focus now more than ever.

According to the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GABC) – part of the United Nations Environment Programme – 38% of the global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2019 were attributed to the buildings and construction sector. Of these, 10% were a result of manufacturing building materials and products, highlighting just how much carbon these processes create.

Reducing materials usage in construction is not an easy task, yet for some activities the solution is quite simple. For example, finding ways to reuse existing materials for longer durations through increased lifespans or repairs is one option. Alternatively, recycling products when they reach the end of their serviceable life is another route. Formwork is one area that can achieve these goals, with the right products. 


Construction’s Role in Carbon Reduction

As one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions globally, any efforts to reduce our carbon footprint can make a big impact. According to the GABC’s 2020 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, the building sector needs to cut emissions by 6% a year from now until 2030 in order to meet global carbon targets. This represents a significant portion of the industry’s current emissions, so finding ways to easily reduce consumption – such as by reusing and recycling materials – can make a considerable difference.


 

Reducing and Reusing Formwork

When it comes to formwork, the traditional material of choice has typically been plywood. The flexibility of installation with plywood has made it a popular formwork material, and in some cases it is still the best choice – see our useful post about the sustainability of formwork options to learn more. 

However, with regards to reusing formwork materials, plywood’s lifespan is limited. The material degrades over time after being in contact with fresh concrete, which reduces the number of times it can be reused. In addition, it is not currently possible to recycle plywood due to the glue that is used to create the product. The glue used means the plywood is thereafter considered hazardous waste and must be disposed of carefully at specialist facilities. 

On the other hand, plastic and metal formwork is durable and long-lasting, while also being able to be repaired when needed and recycled at the end of its use. Together, these properties help reduce the consumption of natural resources as well as requiring less energy, as fewer new formwork products are produced. They are also able to be re-used for longer periods of time – an alkus® all-plastic panel can be used up to 1,500 times – which is 30 times more than plywood and up to six time more than many other plastic panels. 

To reduce the amount of formwork that is thrown away, MEVA takes back and refurbishes used formwork panels for reuse. All original MEVA used formwork panels are rigorously tested to ensure they are safe for use and will provide an excellent finish. Depending on the warranty that is desired, the frames are refurbished by mechanically cleaning them using steel ball blasting, repairing them if needed, then re-coating the frames with annealed plastic coating. The all-plastic facing panel is either repaired or renewed, depending on the level of damage. MEVA used formwork comes with two, five, or seven years warranty to suit varying requirements. 

 

Repairing Formwork

A unique benefit of using MEVA’s plastic-faced formwork is that it can be repaired, which further prolongs the lifespan of each panel. While other plastics can be repaired to a limited extent, the alkus® solid plastic panels are unique in that they are easy to repair with identical material and therefore retain their technical properties. 
Frequent site use inevitably leads to damage to the facing, such as scratches or holes from nails. Depending on the finish required, this may not be suitable or desirable, and therefore repairing the panel is the best option. First, the damaged areas are prepared for repair by removing any dirt, residual concrete, formwork oil residue, or other soiling by scraping the surface with a paint scraper. For scratches, an extruder or hot air welder is then used to melt and apply the new polypropylene to the damaged areas. Once finished, any protruding material is removed with a paint remover. 
Holes of up to 51mm in diameter can also be repaired. First, the hole is drilled out with a step drill, before a polypropylene repair plug is inserted into the hole and hammered in. For holes between 35-51mm in diameter, repair patches are used instead and welded in place with an extruder. Any material standing proud of the surface is easily removed with a paint remover. Because the plugs are made of the same material, any future damage in the area of the hole can be easily repaired with an extruder or hot air welder. 
 

 

Recycling Formwork

The metal frames of our plastic-faced formwork are either steel or aluminium, both of which are recycled at the end of their lifespan. For example, the AluFix, AluStar and MonoFix systems from MEVA are fully aluminium, and therefore able to be completely recycled, whilst the StarTec XT and Mammut XT systems use a hollow steel frame that can be recycled. Similarly, the alkus® polypropylene panels are also recyclable, and can be made into new formwork or other items when they cannot be repaired. 

 

Choosing Sustainable Options

Making sustainable choices is the only way that the construction industry will meet their targets to reduce carbon emissions. Whilst there are not always easy answers, choosing formwork that can be reused for longer periods, repaired when damaged, and recycled at the end of its lifespan is one way to help reduce materials usage and our carbon footprint.