British rigid Urethane Foam Manufacturers' Association

Sustainability & the environment

In Europe, the growing Polyurethane (PUR)/Polyisocyanurate (PIR) insulation products industry comprises over 11,500 companies employing over a third of a million people and is worth about 6 billion Euros in trade. Many companies give priority to the welfare and development of their employees e.g. through participation in the “Investors in People” initiative. Tax revenue from the industry is substantial.

The PIR/PUR products industry offers products that can provide low energy shelter thereby assisting the drive to eliminate fuel poverty. The industry is also involved in lobbying official bodies and stakeholders encouraging them to do more in this area.

The PIR/PUR industry plays a crucial role in cutting CO2 emissions by providing products that greatly improve energy efficiency, an essential element in the struggle against climate change. The industry proactively lobbies government and other influential bodies proposing measures (such as improvements to the building regulations) that will ensure a continuously decreasing environmental impact from buildings, which currently account for 40% of all CO2 emissions in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.

The net environmental impact of PIR/PUR insulation products is extremely positive. It is estimated that over a 50-year period these products will save at least >100 times more energy than embodied in the fossil fuel used to produce them in the first place. Moreover, the widely respected sustainable construction consultants XCO2 conisbee Ltd conclude in its publication -Insulation for Sustainability – A Guide- that zero ODP insulation products such as PIR/PUR are amongst the most environmentally sustainable forms of insulation.

The industry has an excellent track record of proactively addressing environmental issues such as ozone depletion. Zero ODP solutions were developed and in many cases implemented well ahead of legislative or regulatory changes.

There are a range of options available for the recovery or recycling of PIR/PUR products produced with zero ODP materials at the end of their useful lives. For example the metal from metal faced sandwich panels can be recovered and recycled although it is recognised that the best currently available solution for the insulation core, if it can no longer be used as insulation, is by incineration with energy recovery, where incineration facilities are available. Where facilities are unavailable landfill can continue to be used.

Testing carried out by BRUFMA on generic foam types has shown that PIR/PUR is highly unlikely to present any problems to leachate in landfill situations. However the legislation in these areas is now complex and advice may be needed on a case by case basis.

Materials produced before about 2002 are more likely to have been produced with ozone depleting substances. These are classed as hazardous materials as they contain ozone depletors even though these agents are encapsulated within the insulation structure and unlikely to be released to the atmosphere. Again the legislation concerning the classification of hazardous materials and landfill legislation is complex.

BRUFMA is working with major stakeholders to try and identify future solutions for PIR / PUR waste containing ozone depletors.