The urban bio-loop: growing, making and regenerating

Building materials Innovation Waste management Waste minimization

It is well known that the so-called “business as usual” scenario does not represent a viable option for a sustainable future and that different development models have to be identified for our society to continue growing and prosper in the future.

The construction industry must reflect this urgency of change – probably more than others. In fact it is still permeated by a number of detrimental factors such as the use of high impact materials, non-reversible building solutions, low efficiency processes and manufacturing.

The development and use of alternative materials to improve the sustainability and the quality of construction products is central to the current debate. Use of natural materials would trigger a different approach in construction by allowing a number of benefits respect to traditional materials options by having lower CO2 content, reducing health risks and cost. Intercepting current low value organic waste streams - both from the countryside and our cities - would reveal an opportunity to issues such as organic waste streams, that represent a costly problem in both economic and environmental terms.

The principles of Circular Economy would provide the rationale for a shift form a linear - disposal model - towards a circular value chain where natural waste is the main resource. In this context new business models could be identified and developed to enable alternative use of organic waste streams as opposed to the current value chain. This approach could also help supporting local and rural economies with benefits for both existing and new stakeholders. Diagrams hereafter are built or adapted from generic Circular Economy principles.

This publication aims at demonstrating that a different paradigm in construction is possible. Organic waste from our cities and the coutryside, traditionally managed through landfill, incineration and composting could be diverted – at least in part – to become a resource for the creation of construction engineering and architecture products before being fed back in the biological cycle at the end of their service life. The use of organic waste in construction would possibly allow the exploitation of its untapped value with a positive impact not only from an environmental perspective but also from a technical, social and economic standpoint. In this document a number of organic waste streams have been identified, together with their applications in building construction as products. Some of them are already certified products used in some markets at global level. Some others need further research and investment before being ready to market.

In the short term these examples are a guideline for designers and practitioners for replacing some of the traditional architectural products with equivalents made with organic waste as a resource. For the long term we explored to which extent both our cities and urban districts could become self-sustaining – at least partially - from a feedstock point of view. This would be through the active implementation of organic waste streams into the supply chain of building construction products. This vision entails on the one side cities and urban districts that could implement more effective recovery systems and processes to turn organic waste into a source of value, while on the other side they can be planned for growing natural construction materials. All this could have an impact and contribute to the development of local economies.

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