Curating a circular economy
Many manufacturing and agricultural processes produce waste but if the processes are significantly organic this need not be. Nature does not produce waste. Or better stated nature is expert in circulating wastes as new inputs. Fallen leaves and animal waste become fertilizer for soil, plants create oxygen as waste (that we rely upon to breathe), and the examples go on and on in nature.
It's in the economic interest of manufacturers to find cheap material input so it's not that folks aren’t looking for ways to upcycle waste. The problem is mostly in what we produce. The fusing of organic/biodegradable components and synthetic products in ways they cannot be separated creates mostly unrecyclable materials. The second law of thermodynamics leads to diffusion of all particles and may be how the universe will end. If manufacturers continue to mix natural resources into non degradable composites that is how all our natural resources will end too – diffused into useless materials that need thousands of years to breakdown and become biological useful.
The reason for doing this is obvious: durability. We want our building materials to be able to withstand anything. Only part of our buildings is outside, however. Easily enough, buildings can be designed with reusable/recyclable exterior shells and degradable structures. Light frame wood construction comes close to doing this. One could (relatively) easily reuse wood framing if it were economically feasible. It is not, however, and much timber waste ends up in landfills with the inorganic waste diffusing into poisoned waste – the second law holds. Cross-laminated timber (mass-timber) is a building technology that is proliferating and is marketed as carbon sequestering. This method is likely economic feasible to separate organics from synthetics and therefore could be reused, but only if the glue for laminating is organic and the technology requires A LOT of virgin wood which is not all that eco-friendly when you think about it.
redhouse studio is working with MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, and the Standard Bank Group – Africa’s largest bank – to develop systems of buildings that keeps bio-degradable components separate from recyclable building shells. To make it happen we pair industries, in this case, agriculture and manufacturing. Waste from farming can be used to create wall and roof systems – structure and thermal envelope. The materials must be protected from elements, vermin, and moisture, but can be easily separated from membranes, renderings, or covers to be fully biodegradable, or non-diffused, at the end of life.
How it works:
Namibia’s “encroacher bush” is choking grasslands and aquifers needed for wildlife and human settlements alike. The bush is cleared to enable grasslands to reestablish. The small branches and leaves of the bush are used for cattle feed and the large limbs are used for charcoal but the middle section does not yet have a good outlet. We have begun using it as a substrate to grow gourmet mushrooms. The mushrooms generate income and food security and waste can be used to make materials. We have done this in Cleveland and created materials with compression strength in excess of 40MPa (6000psi) which is greater than most concretes, and preliminary results for the materials in Namibia are 30MPa (4400psi) and climbing.
The hope is to scale this process into a large mushroom farm from which waste is dutifully utilized in a large scale material fabrication and concurrently to develop small scale deployable farms to plant seeds throughout the country and beyond expanding the circular economy concept and proliferating recyclable building practices.
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