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Alternative Materials: Will Our Future Resilient Cities ...

Alternative Materials: Will Our Future Resilient Cities Rise from the Landfill?

1.3 billion tons of waste is generated each year in cities worldwide. With a rabid consumerist hunger, it is unsurprising that 30% of the world’s waste comes from America. San Francisco is hoping to change this by becoming the first major U.S. city to reach a “zero-waste” goal by 2020. This not only means recycling

Recycling Yard, San Francisco Bay Area, California

1.3 billion tons of waste is generated each year in cities worldwide. With a rabid consumerist hunger, it is unsurprising that 30% of the world’s waste comes from America. San Francisco is hoping to change this by becoming the first major U.S. city to reach a “zero-waste” goal by 2020. This not only means recycling materials and composting biodegradable foods and packaging, but also preventing waste before it even happens so that nothing reaches the landfill. Currently the city has reached 80% zero-waste, but how are they going to close the remaining gap? Placing designated landfill, recycling, and compost bins throughout the city is a start. Could a more creative approach be the answer to skyrocket San Francisco to zero-waste?

Wood made from newspapers; arches crafted from vacuum sealed bottles; living bricks that can be grown in less than a week - these are just a few materials that are paving the way for a unique built environment free of waste. It is somewhat of an ironic concept when a society free of waste could be fabricated from waste. The slogan of “reduce, reuse, recycle” will evolve into “reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover.” Can waste have a second life as a sustainable building material? The authors of Building from Waste: Recovered Materials in Architecture and Construction from ETH Zurich and the Future Cities Laboratory think so. In order to design future resilient urban environments, cities will need to rise from the ashes of their own waste.

Recyclable cardboard, San Francisco, California

These materials generated from waste can be functionally used in construction as load-bearing, self-supporting, insulating, and finishing products. One particular material dubbed NewspaperWood is fabricated using recycled newspapers to mimic wood in both quality and aesthetic. To make the wood, newspaper is soaked in glue and wrapped around an axis to form a log shape. The paper log can then be cut, milled, drilled, nailed, sanded, and sealed. As a final product, the layering of paper is deceptively similar to the visual aesthetic of tree rings. An interesting reverse in lifecycle: wood to paper and then back to wood. Rather than serving as a large-scale alternative to wood, NewspaperWood serves primarily as a catalyst in starting a dialogue around alternative strategies in transforming waste into valuable materials.

Housing Construction Site, Oakland, California

Reimagine landfills as vehicles for building our future cities rather than an end point for our waste. For hundreds of years we designed cities to generate waste. Now it is time that we begin to design waste to regenerate our cities.

Suiting to San Francisco’s Zero Waste initiative, swissnex San Francisco will be collaborating with ETH Zurich and Future Cities Laboratory through sustainable events, workshops, and exhibitions addressing the future of resilient cities through the context of alternative building materials. Be sure to not miss out on the events!

Can materials composed of waste become the standard when designing our future cities? What other ways can waste have a second life as a sustainable building material? We'd love to hear what you think in the comments area below.

Credits: Images by Lauren Golightly. Data linked to sources.

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Lauren Golightly is a graduate of the University of New Mexico with a degree in Architecture and Art History. Her studies in art history are based in architectural history, theory and criticism, and focus on modern and contemporary influences. A back...

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