Improving sustainability in protective clothing

Our Group Technical Manager Anthony Ralph says the construction industry needs work together to drive the use of environmentally-friendly and recyclable materials in protective clothing.

Anthony, who spoke at Sustainable innovations in performance clothing hosted by the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, on 14 November, says that sustainability is often an after-thought in protective clothing development, with any environmental benefits coming as a “bonus”, rather than a driver.

“We are hamstrung, to a degree, by standards and performance requirements that can currently only be met by man-made fibres that are difficult recycle,” he says.

“While the construction industry is exploring ways to improve sustainability, such as through recycling protective clothing and better education of employees, to extend the life of PPE through care and maintenance, these are ‘end-of-use’ solutions.

“A far better way of solving the issue is for manufacturers and distributors to take responsibility for sourcing more sustainable and recyclable materials; for end-users to demand more environmentally-friendly products; and for industry bodies to pressure legislators to adapt standards to drive their use – without compromising safety, of course.

“Many manufacturers are developing life-extending technologies, nanotech coatings, self-cleaning materials and more durable man-made fibres, but more could be done to increase the use of sustainable materials – that meet standards and performance criteria – to mitigate their environmental impact before they are even used,” he says.

“However, with construction company profit margins still very tight, there has to be a consideration of cost – so any solutions need to be lower cost than current compliant solutions.

“It’s a big challenge but we are getting a clear message from our clients that they want to see more sustainability in protective clothing and PPE as a whole. We need to work together to affect change but we believe there is a real opportunity to revolutionise not just construction but any industry using performance materials.”

At OnSite Support, we are always looking for the next big thing in sustainable innovation and to help our construction clients reduce their environmental impact, so get in touch.