Where to apply recycled materials in architecture and urbanism
Around the world, there is a movement igniting. Engineers and designers are beginning to place more efforts towards creating sustainable and eco-friendly homes. This piece will explore innovative and progressive ways that recycling could be used. Currently, as it stands in New Zealand there a very few recycled items that are able to be used due to restrictions and approvals methods that are currently in place within the Building Code. We hope this piece fuels you with inspiration and hope for the future of New Zealand design.
Recycling and upcycling, what is the difference?
First of all, let’s take a look at the difference between recycling and upcycling to understand how they can each be used in the construction industry. Recycling requires an industrial process in which objects are typically broken down and then transformed into new materials, or used to build up the same object again. Whereas upcycling has nothing to do with the industrial process of recycling. Upcycling is to take an object or materials that would otherwise go to landfill and improve upon it, often adding other materials to it to make it useful in some way again. However, upcycling isn’t just transforming objects into better versions of themselves; often, objects get repurposed to offer a different function entirely. The only limit to upcycling is your imagination. So to summarise, recycling involves reusing the base material to add to other components, whereas upcycling takes materials and creates something new from its existing state.
Why is it important?
When we think about waste, what do we do with something once we are done with it and it then becomes ‘waste’? We throw it away right? However ‘away’ is not a destination. It merely means that you are sending it somewhere else and often that place is to landfill. Construction and demolition produce frighteningly large amounts of waste. It is estimated that construction and demolition waste makes up 40–50 percent of New Zealand’s total waste going to landfill annually- eep! Each home constructed can generate up to 4 tonnes of waste on average.
Such an amount of waste disposal is an onerous task and requires space for dumping and fuel for transportation. As our waste continues to grow, landfill availability dwindles. Therefore it is necessary that we recycle and upcycle our construction materials for sustainable development within our country. So, how do we do that?
Using recycled materials around the globe
Let’s take a look at how the wider world is approaching sustainability and applying innovative technologies utilising recyclable materials.
Walls- Bricks made from recycled plastics can help save you money, time, and resources! For example, in Argentina, recycled bricks that are made up of 20 plastic bottles have been used to build social-housing and long-term emergency shelters.
Paint- Strange as it may sound expanded polystyrene (EPS) or styrofoam can actually be used as a base to create paint! Styrofoam is also commonly used as a sound barrier in many structures. A pair of Chilean chemists from Idea-Tec have developed EPS-based paints. With a mission to find solutions for dealing with the untreated waste, these chemists have found a way to recycle 3.3-5.5 kgs of EPS per tin of paint!
Structure- In some cases, construction and demolition waste can be used to create concrete to build up new structures. During the recycling process, the waste undergoes a crushing phase to create structured slabs in all shapes and sizes.
Roofing- Here’s a question for you: What is an object that you likely use every day, it’s constantly exposed to the elements of the outdoors, it is durable, weather-resistant and a great insulator?… Your tires! A Mexican company, a3p, has manufactured a waterproofing product, Imperllanta. This product utilises recycled tires to create waterproofing materials suitable for waterproofing a roof as large as the Toluca International Airport.
Paving- Recycled plastics such as bottles and packaging materials can actually be used as paving for streets and bike paths. It takes less heat, and therefore less energy, to melt down these products as compared to traditional asphalt paving. Unfortunately, these technologies have yet to migrate to the mainstream New Zealand market. Whether this is because we are further isolated from the creation of these technologies, or old-school mindsets are holding us back, is unknown. With time and the development of these materials, we will likely be experiencing more of this in the future.
The fun stuff- Playgrounds, street furniture, interactive displays, and pavilions are becoming more and more unconventional. With cities, the childcare industry and local governments all turning towards a more eco-conscious way of existence there are plenty of opportunities for us as a society to upcycle, recycle and incorporate natural renewable materials within these designs.
Watch this space as we continue to explore the evolution of recyclable materials and our own applications here within New Zealand. We’re always ready to get creative with our clients and create something unique and progressive, wherever possible. Ready to step outside the box? We’ll be waiting on the other side.