This house was built almost completely from garbage: 20,000 used toothbrushes, two tons of denim jeans, 4,000 DVD cases, and various other landfill-bound products line the walls, and waste reclaimed from construction sites makes up almost everything else. The Brighton Waste House, built on the campus of the University of Brighton in the U.K., was designed to test the limits of how much can be recycled in a home.
"The philosophy behind the build was to use construction waste for the frame of the building, and then infill between the frame with household and industrial waste—that’s where we got the unusual stuff," says architect Duncan Baker-Brown of BBM, who built the house along with students and volunteers. "In the walls, we have these ply cupboards full of the sort of material that’s swamping our waste sites and filling up our oceans."
Over the next few years, the school will be monitoring the performance of each of the less common materials to see if they might be viable alternatives to current plastic insulation. A network of sensors will measure things like moisture, gas, and temperature, and researchers will compare the results with more conventional materials.
The project is also designed to inspire visitors to think about reusing the same waste in other industries. "I think we’ve just got so much of this plastic waste that we have got to look seriously at how to handle it," Baker-Brown says. "I’m not putting that responsibility solely on the shoulders of the construction industry."
The materials were fairly easy to find, even at gigantic volumes. The thousands of toothbrushes were collected in a few days from an airline, and the tons of denim came from a supplier that was chopping off jeans to make shorts. The school worked with recycling site Freegle to help source many of the materials.
Eventually, Baker-Brown hopes that it will be easy to find reusable materials at the equivalent of Home Depot. "In an ideal world, we would have an infrastructure of what people are beginning to call 'ReIY'—instead of a DIY center, it’s a ReIY center. Like Amazon, great big warehouses with an online presence."
Ultimately, he also hopes that businesses will produce less waste. Baker-Brown points out that the construction industry itself is beginning to improve, though it has a long way to go. "What happens on building sites is people still over-order just in case," he says. "That’s starting to change, but it's still cheaper to throw material at a site to keep it busy. For every five houses we build in the U.K., the equivalent of one house goes to landfill."