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Why lead is one of the greenest choices available

Over recent months, we’ve attended a number of UK construction events where we’ve had the opportunity to discuss lead’s environmental benefits with a range of accomplished industry professionals; from architects, housebuilders and contractors, through to developers, merchants and tradesmen.

Across the board, it was clear that sustainable development and the green credentials of construction materials are becoming increasingly important. However, what also became apparent, was that while lead is indeed recognised for being an environmentally friendly material to work with, many didn’t know to what extent.

Now in the BRE Green Guide for the first time with a rating of A+ or A, as a building material that is both fit for purpose and able to improve the sustainability of construction, lead is arguably one of the greenest choices you could make.

One of the main reasons lead is A+ or A in the Green Guide – which considers typical UK construction specifications and compares their environmental impact on a scale of A+ to E (lowest to greatest environmental impact) – is undoubtedly down to its recyclability.

Lead can be recycled continually; used over and over with zero effect on performance. It’s also easily recovered when buildings need to be demolished, and with its high scrap value, nothing goes to waste. More than 95% of lead used in the UK building industry is recycled, and at Midland Lead, we use 100% recycled lead to fill our kettles – further reducing the need for primary raw materials.

It’s durable, too

Alongside recyclability, the environmental performance of lead is further enhanced by its durability. Pitted against synthetic or even natural weatherproofing alternatives, lead sheet is one of the most durable options. While the life expectancy of pitched roofing materials fluctuates from 30 years for coated steel and fibre-cement slates, to 50 years for timber shingles, lead sheet lasts over 100 years. Requiring little, if any, maintenance, there’s also no need for early replacement.

Boasting the lowest carbon footprint among all hard metals, next up on lead sheet’s list of green credentials is its energy-efficient manufacturing process. Due to lead’s low melting point (327°C) during the recycling process, less energy is used compared with alternatives.

Our lead refinery also operates under an Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) license, monitored by the UK Environment Agency. This means we must demonstrate that we protect the environment by minimising emissions to air, land and water, by reducing energy use, promoting the use of clean technology, minimising waste production and encouraging innovation and recycling.

Midland Lead was also one of the first manufacturers to have ISO 14001 for the entire manufacturing process; a certification that ensures we fully understand and properly manage our environmental responsibilities. ISO 14001 is the best-known environmental management standard that involves certification by an external certification authority – in our case the British Standards Institution (BSI), and demonstrates our commitment to continually improving our environmental performance.

Improving energy efficiency

Further demonstrating our environmental commitment, we’re currently working with MSc graduates from Cranfield University; a leading British postgraduate and research-based university specialising in science, engineering, technology and management. Over the next couple of years, we’ll be supporting three research projects that will aim to improve our understanding of the lead sheet manufacturing process in order to further improve its energy efficiency.

With a strong belief that engineering and technology will help drive the lead sheet industry and its sustainability forwards, we’re excited to be a part of improving the manufacturing process’ energy efficiency, while spreading the word on lead’s natural green attributes.