Pilot scheme to strip carbon and plastic from homes

Neal Maxwell

A pioneering partnership has been unveiled in what is being described as a world first in the move towards carbon zero, plastic-free and fuel-efficient homes.

Six prototype homes will be built in the Liverpool City Region, which families will move into, as part of the experiment created by the research and development partnership.

Not-for-profit environmental company, Changing Streams CIC, is joining forces with one of the UK’s largest housing providers, Your Housing Group and The University of Liverpool to design and build the six prototype houses, which they hope will provide a blueprint for sustainable home development worldwide.

The project is aimed at creating economically viable housing that is environmentally friendly in every way possible, while helping to eradicate fuel poverty – by significantly reducing running/heating costs.

The prototype houses will be based in the Liverpool City Region and will involve six different solutions to tackle carbon, plastic pollution and fuel poverty.

The first house will be designed and built to prioritise carbon reduction, the second to prioritise plastic reduction. The remaining four will be developed as a chain of hybrid carbon/plastic reduced homes that will be used to identify and address the potential clashes between these two objectives.

Once built, six families will be asked to move into the homes and to work with the research team to understand how they function in everyday life.

The programme is hoped to underpin Your Housing Group’s plans to develop new homes over the next 25 years.

Funding has been secured to deliver the initial project covering researching and developing the prototypes, part of which is being used to support the ‘Changing Streams Research Centre’ based in the University of Liverpool’s School of Environmental Sciences. The new centre will work closely with industry leaders like Your Housing Group to find innovative, but also practical solutions, to reducing plastic in construction.

Brian Cronin, Your Housing Group chief executive, said: “The board at Your Housing Group is fully committed to zero carbon and the wider ESG agenda and Chris Mackenzie-Grieve, a non-executive director at YHG, will act as our lead board member to ensure this remains a strategic priority for the group.

“We have a substantial, multimillion-pound investment programme to deliver over the next five years that includes the development and delivery of a carbon reduction strategy. However, we recognise that this alone will not achieve our ultimate goal of making our homes truly sustainable whilst providing social equality.

“So, we are essentially pushing fresh thinking into this project, whilst also utilising the wealth of knowledge we jointly possess.”

He added: “We also want to ensure that the people who call these houses their homes do not suffer with rising fuel bills and the prospect of fuel poverty. This unique initiative will place residents and the future at the heart of our objectives and put the social back into social housing.”

Dr Gareth Abrahams, head of the University of Liverpool’s Changing Streams Research Centre and co-founder of Changing Streams CIC, said: “Many of the products we use to build and insulate new homes are made from plastic-based materials. The risk is that by focusing on carbon zero targets alone we produce housing with larger quantities of plastic.

“Further downstream we know that plastic has a devastating impact on the natural environmental. This five-year project is the first to address the balance between carbon and plastic reduction in the design and construction of affordable housing.”

He added: “It will not be a quick fix. The project will involve very intensive research and innovative problem solving. There are many plastic alternatives currently available that can be used within the construction process, for instance, but they are not all viable due to price, availability, performance, and installation. At the same time there are many plasticated products for which no alternative exists. Our research will highlight all these areas and help inform us of the barriers to change whilst developing new and inventive ways of working.”

Neal Maxwell, who has worked in the construction industry for more than 30 years, and co-founded Changing Streams CIC after a trip to the Arctic left him appalled by the levels of plastic pollutants in the Arctic Ocean, said: “We set-up Changing Streams in 2019 with the sole intention of changing the construction industry’s reliance on plastic, both in terms of the materials that form our homes and the plastic that is wasted in their fabrication.

“Our aim is to disrupt the industry and tear up the ‘traditional’ rule book and to do this, we are now embarking on an incredibly ambitious programme of work in partnership with Your Housing Group and the University of Liverpool, which will lead to a fundamental change in the way social housing and housing in general is created.”

He said while the construction industry is making great strides towards its carbon goals, the sector is still responsible for 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, 50% of the world’s energy consumption and 40% of raw materials: “So far as plastic is concerned, we produce 380 million tonnes of plastic globally every year and 20% of this is destined for the construction industry. So we would like to call on other developers to join us, share and contribute to the prototype project and be part of the drive towards plastic and carbon free-homes.”