Study Finds UK’s Brick Imports at Record High with Soaring Carbon Footprint

Study Finds UK's Brick Imports at Record High with Soaring Carbon Footprint
credit: theguardian

London (Parliament News) – Research reveals that Britain’s brick imports are surging, with each brick’s carbon footprint growing. The UK leads in imports, raising concerns over emissions and sustainability.

Britain is importing more of its bricks than ever and the carbon expense of each brick is growing, research has revealed. The UK is the number one nation in the world for brick importation, according to data from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Observatory of Economic Complexity.

What Drives the Rising Carbon Expense of Each Brick?

More than 500m bricks were imported in 2022, ushering in carbon emissions of 288,190 tonnes. This denotes an all-time high, according to Laurie Parsons, a senior lecturer in human geography at the University of London. Between 2020 and 2022, carbon dioxide comparable (CO2e) from dispatching imported bricks grew by 54%. This elevation is attributed to an increasing change in importing bricks from abroad, and especially from outside Europe after Brexit.

The total number of bricks imported from outside the EU was 50m in 2022, which corresponded with 3m in 2015 – a more than 15-fold growth in seven years. Due to the emissions made while shipping the bricks longer distances, and in some circumstances the use of more carbon-intensive manufacturing procedures, this has led to a more elevated amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere per brick used.

For instance, more than 7m bricks were imported from Pakistan in 2022. Each of these bricks produces 1kg/CO2e, compared with 0.52kg for the moderate brick from the EU.

Why Advocate for Retrofitting Over New Construction?

Alice Moncaster, a professor of sustainable construction at the University of the West of England, who collated the carbon emissions data in partnership with the Brick Development Association (BDA) trade body, stated: “From construction generally, we ought to move rapidly towards retrofit being the default approach, rather than demolish and new-build. 

“Retrofitting buildings to the existing energy standards ‘costs’ about half of the carbon emissions of the equivalent new building – and yet bursting ‘tatty old’ buildings across huge areas of our cities is still the norm.

“All political parties seem to have got on to the same bandwagon of the need for more new homes to be built. And yet what should be accomplished first is retrofitting the homes we have that are presently unfit for habitation.

“To curb emissions from bricks especially, certainly manufacturing all of our own bricks would reduce carbon emissions. But utilising fewer bricks in the first place would have a huge impact.”

The brick production industry in the UK has dropped sharply since 2008 after the economic crash led to brick kilns approaching across the country. In the past five years in certain the importation of bricks has grown year on year.

Is the UK Truly Self-Sufficient in Brick Production?

However, according to Keith Aldis, the chief executive of the BDA, the UK has the structures to produce enough bricks without requiring imports. He stated: “We actually make about 2bn bricks a year from 50 plants dotted around the UK. The UK is Europe’s biggest brick market and is self-sufficient in manufacturing capacity, with virtually unlimited clay and water resources. 

“In 2023, we imported about 370m bricks from the EU and a shorter 47m bricks from non-EU nations where quality is questionable and where there is a high chance of bonded labour and poor carbon-heavy manufacturing processes being used. People simply don’t understand the provenance of the bricks they buy, or don’t care.”

Federica Calabrò

Federica Calabrò is a journalist at Parliament News, She is covering Business and General World News. She is a native of Naples, commenced her career as a teller at Poste Italiane before following her passion for dance. Graduating in classical dance, she showcased her talents with two entertainment companies, enchanting audiences throughout Italy. Presently, Federica serves as the general secretary at the Allianz Bank Financial Advisors financial promotion center in Naples. In this capacity, she manages office forms, provides document assistance for Financial Advisors, oversees paperwork for the back office, and ensures smooth customer reception and assistance at the front office. Outside her professional obligations, Federica indulges in her passion for writing in her leisure time.