Glass Blocks

Food waste can be turned into building materials


Today, pineapple, potatoes, mushrooms, corn, oranges and bananas are among the staple foods. Tomorrow, they could be the backbone of our cities, according to a new report by a major engineering company.

Corn walls and rice bricks? Is it possible? A multinational construction company thinks it is and suggests recycling organic waste for insulation, boards and other building materials. Throughout the western world, construction is a major source of waste and pollution. The construction industry accounts for a significant proportion of CO2 emissions and millions of tons of waste, much of which can be attributed to the linear economy that manages the industry, which is based on a “take, make, waste” model, utilizing raw resources and recycling very little.

In an attempt to address this issue, construction company Arup argues that the industry needs to move towards a circular feedback economy that aims to recycle as much as possible, discard as little waste as possible and use as few raw resources as possible. They even believe that this can be done by using food waste as a material. About half of all food produced in the world ends up in the garbage, representing about 60 million tonnes of food. Applying circular thinking to this issue in conjunction with construction waste could mean less product going to landfill, while at the same time there would be the manufacture of recyclable building materials to keep construction waste out of landfills. They also believe that some materials could be grown normally as produce, eliminating waste altogether. In the Urban Bio Loop exhibition, Arup envisions future buildings being made from pineapples, potatoes, mushrooms, corn, oranges, bananas and more.

The company states in its report that the familiar ‘business as usual’ scenario is not an option for a sustainable future and that different development models need to be found in order for our society to continue to grow and prosper in the future. It adds: “The construction industry needs to reflect this urgent need for change – probably more so than other industries. In fact, it is still pervaded by a number of damaging factors, such as the use of high-strength materials, irreversible building solutions, low-performance processes and construction. The use of organic waste in construction would potentially allow the exploitation of its unrecognised value with a positive impact not only from an environmental point of view but also from a technical, social and economic point of view,” the researchers stress in their multi-page report.

In addition to determining the various environmental impacts of such an effort, the team also makes recommendations for the use of some materials. For example, they suggest incorporating peanut shells into flat planks for interior partitions; potato peels and cork for thermal insulation due to their low conductivity, anti-fire performance and water-repellent capabilities. The fibrous debris from bananas and from the pineapple and banana harvest, which are both lightweight and durable, can be incorporated into carpets and rugs.

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