When two recent architecture school graduates in the Dutch city of Rotterdam decided to build their own house on an empty lot, they chose a material that has never been used in a home before: bricks made from local trash.
Called WasteBasedBricks, the bricks are produced by a startup called StoneCycling, which has been perfecting the formula over the last few years. The company mixes waste from nearby glass, ceramics, and insulation factories into their new material, and sometimes also uses rejected clay from traditional brick factories and demolition waste.
"We like to use only secondary materials," says Ward Massa, co-owner of StoneCycling. "That way it doesn't end up somewhere in the landfill or being sent to other countries—we reuse it as new raw materials."
Their process also uses less energy than traditional brick manufacturing—further reducing the carbon footprint—and doesn't require excavation of new clay, which can damage the environment.
The company originally planned to work only with waste from demolished buildings, but there were challenges. "Demolition companies try to demolish in the cheapest way possible," Massa says. "So that means the waste they end up with is a mix of various kinds. That makes it difficult for us to use that waste because it's not pure enough."
They changed their focus to the steadier stream of waste that they could get from local factories. But they're also working with demolition companies, the construction industry, and lawmakers to try to change the way buildings are torn down.
"What we see now is if we are willing to guarantee that we will buy a certain waste material, there's an incentive for them to demolish in a purer way," he says. "So we see very slowly that it's changing, but it will take some years before it becomes policy."
Some advocates in the Netherlands are also pushing for a "building material passport" that would list everything used in a building, so it can more easily be reused when it's torn down.
Working with students from the Academy of Architecture in Amsterdam and designers at Studioninedots, StoneCycling also developed bricks that can stick together like Lego bricks, without needing mortar—so they also can be more readily recycled later. A temporarily pavilion in Amsterdam, up now, demonstrates the new technology.
The house under construction in Rotterdam will be the first home to use the material, but the company is talking to architects around the world about building more. The process can scale up, they say, with more investment.
They're also beginning to work on projects in the U.S., but don't want to ship the bricks overseas in the long term. "It would be better to collect local waste, and produce it over there," Massa says.
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