The Future of Waste Management: 4 Solutions for the Construction Industry

The concept of salvaging and reusing materials is not new. 

Bricks from Roman ruins have been used to build Medieval churches, the underground cisterns of Istanbul are supported by columns from ancient Greek and Roman structures. 

The first recorded use of recycled paper was in 9th century Japan. After World War II, there were universal collection campaigns for tin, rubber, steel, paper and more materials. 

While “design for disassembly” was first defined in the 1990s, we can find traditional Japanese farm houses constructed without any nails, ready to be disassembled and reassembled like a puzzle.

The future will see these two concepts be put even more into practice as our growing population will demand a change in how we handle natural resources and waste management.

The Future of Waste Management: 4 Solutions for the Construction Industry

The Problem: Planet Earth is Running Out of Raw Materials

Our global economic growth has been fueled by the increased use of raw materials and natural resources. Natural capital is being transformed into other forms of capital – but we’re growing so big, so fast, that it is quickly depleting the very same natural capital on which it thrives.

Did you know that sand is the world’s second most consumed natural resource? Where water is the main source of life, sand is the primary raw material that our modern cities are made from. Concrete, asphalt, glass and even the chips in all our electronic devices – it’s all made from this raw material that – perhaps surprisingly – we’re critically running out of. Don’t we have enough of it?

Sand and gravel are usually found together and we use about 50 billion tonnes of this “aggregate“ each year. But we cannot use every type of sand. Only sand found in beds, banks, and floodplains of rivers, as well as in lakes and on the seashore is angular enough to lock together to form stable concrete. And only high-purity silica sands can be used to make glass as well as high-tech products like solar panels and computer chips.

The world is so desperately in need of this specific type of raw material, that governments are shipping it to countries that have deserts themselves (alas, not the right type of sand) – and even criminal gangs have moved in to the trade, taking lives of competitors and environmental activists left and right.

The effects of sand mining are serious: ocean dredging has damaged coral reefs and tears up marine habitat, land reclamation is wiping out coastal wetlands and increasing water pollution. Mining sand is even more destructive, killing bottom-dwelling organisms and suffocating fish by churned-up sediment in riverbeds and collapsing river banks – dragging the crop fields and houses near them with it. The natural replenishment of erosion in locations such as the Mekong River delta just cannot keep up.

In many Western countries, river sand mining has already been largely phased out. Now it’s time to get the rest of the world to follow suit.

For further reading, we can recommend this article on BBC Future, Smithsonian Magazine and the book “Sand Stories” by Kiran Pereira (you can even find an interview with StoneCycling in this book!) >>

The Future of Waste Management: 4 Solutions for the Construction Industry

The Problem: The World is Becoming Increasingly Urbanised

Since 2007, more than half the world’s population has been living in cities, and that share is projected to rise to 60 percent by 2030. The number of new buildings is likely to grow rapidly in the coming years, especially in Africa and Asia, in fact, half of the buildings standing in 2060 have not yet been built!

Cities and metropolitan areas are powerhouses of economic growth—contributing about 60 percent of global GDP. However, they also account for about 70 percent of global carbon emissions and over 60 percent of resource use.

A substantial amount of construction materials are manufactured using natural resources. Therefore, a boom in construction creates additional demands on the mining sector. Below are some of our solutions to this problem.

The Future of Waste Management: 4 Solutions for the Construction Industry

Our Solution: Using Waste as a Resource

When StoneCycling’s founder Tom van Soest first came up with the idea of turning construction and demolition waste into new building materials back in 2009, little did he know the positive impact he would have on the world in the years to come.  

From creating different types of materials for a variety of applications and completing projects all over the world to collaborating with industry experts and experimenting with cutting-edge new technologies, building with waste is no longer just an idea, but a reality!

Through all growth, research and development, Tom and the rest of the StoneCycling team stayed focused on the core of their business: using waste as a resource to create new materials.

We keep a close eye on the impact we have on the world and track the particular waste streams we use, the amount of kilograms of upcycled waste, the CO2 we reduced compared to conventional products and ultimately, the CO2 we captured in each of our projects. 

Make sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter to stay in the loop of our progress. 

The Future of Waste Management: 4 Solutions for the Construction Industry

Our Solution: Leaving Virgin Materials in the Ground

Sometimes, the best action is to NOT do something. That is why we work hard each day to develop our recipes with less and less raw, virgin materials in them. 

Our mission is to create building materials made from 100% up-cycled waste with a positive carbon impact on the planet, but we understand that the road ahead is long. That said, we are committed to moving forward, even if it’s small steps. 

Currently, our WasteBasedBricks® and WasteBasedSlips® are made from a minimum of 60% waste, but we are working hard to get to this percentage in the upcoming years. 

Our Solution: Showing the Potential of Waste 

Since founding StoneCycling, we have noticed that the traditionally conservative building sector is not easily inclined to invest in new, innovative building materials and methods.

But we believe that one of the best ways to convince architects, developers and clients about the power of building with waste is to show them! 

By making building materials that are not just technically equal to standard building materials, but also look aesthetically pleasing, we turn upcycling waste into a key selling point. 

We show the viability of our products and the results of innovation to pave the way for major players in the global market to follow our example and increase our impact exponentially.

House Made of Waste in Rotterdam - WasteBasedBricks® Scoop! || StoneCycling
Our First House Made of Waste in Rotterdam
StoneCycling || The West, 11th Avenue, New York, USA
Sustainable Facade Made of Truffle on 11th Avenue in New York

Our Solution: A Proactive Approach

Economic and ecological realities may dictate that our current buildings be better preserved, refurbished, reused, or, when none of those options is possible, that their component materials be salvaged and used for new construction. 

Thought and planning in the construction process is essential to minimise or even eliminate construction waste, which will not only lead to a better environment, but also increase profits.  

From preventing waste by proper maintenance of buildings and using modern techniques to create building materials efficiently, to designing projects with whole-life in mind and specifying reclaimed or waste materials in construction, the environmental impact of a construction project can be heavily reduced right from the start of the planning phase. 

By spending more time and money in preventing and putting construction waste to a positive use, there is also a lot to be gained in terms of reduced waste transport and disposal costs, as well as reduced expenditure on new materials.

It is also important that there is a commitment by the client, consultant and contractor to minimise waste. All stakeholders along the construction supply chain should adopt a more proactive approach in dealing with waste.

We all have to ask better questions about how buildings change in the next 30, 40, 50 years, think more carefully about the kind of materials we use, and we have to find ways to bring people and technologies closer together in ways that are mutually beneficial. We’re ready. Are you joining our mission?