Could organic waste be used for construction materials?
- Engineering firm Arup has suggested turning organic waste into construction materials to effectively use resources and help develop a circular economy, according to Fast Company. The circular economy aims to recycle as much as possible while using as few raw resources and throwing away as little as possible.
- The U.S. construction industry alone produces more than 534 million tons of waste, more than double that of municipal solid waste. According to Arup, the 60 million tons of food disposed of each year could make building materials, successfully diverting waste from dumps and allowing materials to be grown like crops.
- The report suggests building materials substitutions including skyscrapers made from mushrooms, carpets from bananas, walls from corn and wheat, insulation from potatoes and bricks from rice.
Thanks to rising input prices and pending shortages, many are anxiously watching the construction materials market. Insulation companies, in particular, have been introducing alternative forms from the traditional fiberglass. Several manufacturers are starting to take advantage of sheep's wool as a natural alternative to its manufactured counterpart.
Concrete, among the most commonly used construction materials, is responsible for 7-10% of global CO2 emissions. As such, researchers have begun to scope out more sustainable alternatives to the material. A 2016 list from Inhabitat noted that materials such as mycelium, comprised of the root structure of fungi and mushroom, along with bamboo and ashcrete, could stack up against concrete while having a lower environmental impact.
Cross-laminated timber (CLT) is also making headlines this year, like with the 7-story Minneapolis building, heralded as the first modern tall wood building in the U.S. CLT rivals steel and concrete's performance but with a smaller environmental footprint. Supply and cost, however, are hindrances. This type of building already is prevalent in Europe and proponents hope building codes will become more accepting of CLT.
Although modular building generally uses traditional construction materials, the nature of offsite's production methods can reduce waste dramatically compared to onsite construction, in some cases, up to 90%. At the end of their lifecycle, prefabricated buildings are meant to be deconstructed rather than demolished, meaning the parts can be reused for a new building rather than diverted to the landfill.
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