Recycled materials or waste

Construction and other waste generation is a major issue in the UK and we lag far behind many countries in recycling and reuse.

The creative reuse of materials is still a largely untapped resource despite the efforts of a few motivated individuals and organisations. Lowest impact options are non-polluting materials that can be simply reused. Recycling and reuse of polluting materials that would be destined for landfill is creditable, but ultimately the final destination must be a consideration and hence the manufacturing processes which create polluting materials must be challenged. It is important that the use, and potential for reuse, of benign materials is built into everyday detailing so that today's building materials do not become tomorrow's waste.

Reused products, such as doors and fire surrounds, are often of high value; so, it is worth reusing them. Note labour costs may also be high. However, floorboards, bricks, tiles and slates are often only available in batches. Products are available that have been recycled, into similar materials (metals, glass cullet, etc.) or something quite distinct (certain plastics can be converted into building boards).

Architects such as Michael Reynolds in the United States have incorporated the use of waste into their designs as an integral part of their overall low-impact strategy (see Case Studies 6-9 on 'earthships'). Reynolds's design relies heavily on tyres and cans, which are widely available across the globe, so the idea is universally applicable, but adaptable to suit local conditions. The potential use of construction as a depository for other industries' waste is a concern, and also that many of these materials do not positively affect occupant health.

The Fife Earthship

Building with waste materials should not challenge us aesthetically or endanger our health. Building with the toxic waste of other industries is unwise (Photo: the author)

The Fife Earthship

Building with waste materials should not challenge us aesthetically or endanger our health. Building with the toxic waste of other industries is unwise (Photo: the author)

Case Study 6.8:

Cardboard School - Westborough Primary School, Westcliffe-on-Sea, Essex

Architects: Cottrell and Vermeulen Architecture, 2001

The Primary School at Westcliff-on-Sea, completed in 2001, uses cardboard panels and tubes within the walls, roof and structure. The design aims to challenge people's perception of the materiality of cardboard. By going against the material's inherent characteristics, the building immediately becomes a point of interest and an education tool in itself.

The two main problems faced by card are that it burns very easily and loses structural integrity when wet; to minimise the effects of fire and water on the building, the cardboard used is combined with other materials.

The building is made up of two basic cardboard components, structural tubes and panels. The tubes were manufactured by Essex Tubes and are made by winding strips of recycled paper tightly around a metal-centred column. Once the tube is the desired width and length, the centre column is removed and reused. The paper used is made water resistant by a waxy layer, which is applied prior to being wound; it is also possible to varnish the completed tubes for double protection.

The panels used in the walls and roofs are manufactured by Quiton & Kaines, who specialise in cardboard building components. Panels are made to suit the application; in this case, a composite panel of 15mm solid card sheets and 3 x 50-mm-thick card honeycomb was used. The honeycomb provides insulation by trapping warm air. The individual panels are finished with a wooden frame for protection and ease of assembly.

A thin plastic layer and water-resistant chemical were applied to the internal walls of the building to prevent moisture from inside the school affecting the card. Externally, the panels were clad using a wood pulp nd cement mixture, which also provides protection from footballs, stones and general damage.

Photos: Bill Bordass, William Bordass Associates

Case Study 6.9:

Earthship, Fife, Scotland

Architect: Michael Reynolds, 2004

An earthship is a passive solar building with thermal mass. This project in Fife is the first demonstration of the earthship concept in the UK.

It is made from natural and recycled materials, including earth-rammed tyres and aluminium cans. It is powered by renewable energy, catches its own water supply from rainwater, and treats and contains its own sewage in planter beds. It is a concept, not a set design, and can be adapted for any climate worldwide.

The building has been developed as a Demonstration Centre and has full planning permission and five-year building warrant approval. The body of the building was completed in a series of workshops during 2002, and the self-sufficient services and internal finishes were completed during 2003.

The retaining walls of the earthship are constructed with tyres, which are then filled with earth. The UK consumes 140 000 tyres every day and there is no satisfactory disposal method in place. Some are incinerated causing air pollution. The rest are landfilled or informally dumped. However tyres are highly suspect from a toxicity perspective and this casts real doubt over the project value. Cans are used to fill the subsequent depths in the surface and the internal face is covered in a clay-based plaster. The 'wing' walls are clad in stone. The floor is of solid lime-crete -concrete with lime instead of cement. Full height glazing admits light and heat that is stored in the thermally massive flanking walls and floor. There is no additional heat source.

It advertises itself as the first autonomous building in the UK, disregarding the experience of the "Street Farmers" and the Autonomous House at Southwell - both of which were lived in, whilst this is essentially a small office.

It is promoted as offering people the opportunity to build their own homes, however the health risks of the construction materials and final indoor climate need to be appraised. The effectiveness of this strategy is being monitored over a three-year period to assess its performance and its relevance to construction in Scotland.

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