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New Bricks Can Be Made Out Of Junk We Aren't Using

What should we do with our industrial waste? Put it into our homes and offices, of course.

Technology to turn the millions of tons of waste from factories, building sites, and processing facilities into something besides landfill has led researchers to fabricate bricks out of TVs, computers, paper waste, incinerator ash, rubble and other materials that were conventionally considered useless.

Now Spanish researchers are fabricating bricks out of the 30 million tons or so of paper industry waste generated in the U.S. and Europe each year. Although their manufacture is not glamorous—the bricks emerge "like sausages" before being cut to size—they are structurally sound and divert tons of waste water sludge and cellulose residue into useful applications, say researchers publishing in the journal Fuel Processing Technology. The techniques also boosts bricks’ insulating properties, while avoiding the use of new raw materials and energy. For now, they remain experimental. The waste bricks (generally up to 10% paper waste) have slightly less mechanical strength than traditional bricks (although still within legal limits), and pose complications as the percent of waste increases.

But other attempts to bring waste bricks to market are already far ahead. One of the most common is trucking concrete and asphalt from demolished buildings to reprocessors that can extract and recycle the wood, metal, and other debris, and then return pristine materials to make new buildings (you can see videos of the process here).

For Haiti, the island nation struck by a massive earthquake in 2010, recycling may be the only way forward. Vast swaths of the capital city Port-au-Prince are scheduled for demolition. Plans to turn that rubble into the next rebirth of the city are moving ahead, says Greg Moro, operations manager for Independence Recycling of Florida, not least because importing new materials is so expensive. Moro is working out a plan to crush the ruins of and leave recyclable material for rebuilding: "They want us to demolish buildings and recycle them into whatever useable products we can make, for example aggregates to be used in new concrete for future development."

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  • Brian Trimble

    Brick manufacturers in the US and in Europe have been including "waste" materials in their brick for years without much fanfare.  A brick manufacturer in Maryland (USA) used sludge from their local waste water treatment plant back in the 1980's.  Other brick manufacturers have encapsulated heavy metals on experimental basis as well.  However, you have to be careful of the rule of unintended consequences.  If you are trucking in thousands of pounds of "waste material" from afar when abundant good quality clay is available cheaply right next to the manufacturer, where does that make sense?  You also have to be careful about the resulting quality of the product when these waste materials are included.  If the "new" brick only lasts 5 years, I'd say that is a failure and I would want the brick to be made as done in the past since I know its quality is good.