After my trip down to Brighton, where I visited the soon-to-be Waste House, I met one of the scientists behind the project at Ecobuild, in London. Their mission is fascinating, but it raises some of the usual questions that pop into every inquisitive mind when facing an “eco” project.
Will it be economically sustainable? Will it be safe? Will it be able to compete with the conventional alternative? Although this seems to be all very centred on money and the planet’s health is priceless, currently the only realistic way to address consumers on a large scale is to be economically efficient.
Duncan Baker Brown, architect and expert in sustainable development in the construction industry, thinks that an ecological house shouldn’t cost more than 2000 – 2500 £ a square meter, namely the same as a conventional home.
Having worked at the Brighton Waste House since its early stage, he has studied a possible large scale construction model.
Looking at the statistics, he realised that for every five houses built, the equivalent of one ends up as waste. Bricks, blocks and other constructing materials from the old structure are thrown away in order to clean the building site.
“To make the project cost effective, the first step is to adopt a ReIY model.” He says.
“ReIY are like large warehouses that will collect what we’re looking at: second hand bricks, rubble, ply, all the stuff from the building site. They will be quite easy to introduce because they will have a public front as well, so citizens can just go there and buy second hand stuff.”
Using “second hand” items instead of “recycled” ones is more effective from an economic and ecological point of view. Re-using things rather than burning fossil fuels melting them down into other products saves energy, emissions and money. According to Baker Brown, second hand supply could generate a large scale market.
He says: “Surprisingly, we had a lot of problem sourcing materials. Given this project has such a high public profile, people don’t want to be seen to be wasteful.”
“Therefore, they don’t apply to our programme, claiming they recycle the 100 per cent of their waste. But we know this can’t be true, because the statistics say that the UK is not recycling the 100 per cent of its waste.”
A Waste House gives second life to a variety of materials, ranging from plywood and rubble to toothbrushes and broken glasses.
“The frame of the house is made of ply materials” explains Baker Brown “In between this ‘skeleton’ of the house, we will insert boxes full of other waste.”
Some of them will come from building sites, for example bricks and blocks, because architects need heavy materials to stabilize internal temperature, “But we also need light materials, such as toothbrushes and other domestic rubbish, for insulation.”
Since the waste will be locked in boxes, it will be secured and won’t pose any threats to residents’ health. But according to Dr Baker Brown, “There is an issue about ‘safe materials’.”
“For 20 years I’ve been building houses using non toxic, environmentally friendly materials.” He says.
“But now things are changed, and we have to look at how we can lock and use waste, because we’ve got to get it away from polluting the planet.”