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Recycling and Construction: Thoughts from Algeria

Bottles being used as a building material

In the Maghreb, like elsewhere, the image projected by the use of recycled materials for construction is negative because it is synonymous with shantytowns, precarious living conditions, poverty, squalor, etc. However, several remarkable experiments in building with recycled materials have been carried out in recent years, mostly in the United States. Michael Reynolds with his "Earthships" or Dan Phillips (who constructs houses of recycled materials in Texas), have designed innovative homes that in addition to reusing waste, offer all necessary comforts, are nearly non-dependent on fossil fuels, and claim to be environmentally aware. These are no small features at a time when more and more attention is given to sustainable homes and the establishment of standards for eco-efficiency.

These experiments demonstrate that salvaging and employing unused materials and/or objects in order to erect houses or other buildings is an idea to further explore, especially considering that recycling is a recognized and encouraged practice for reducing waste and protecting the environment. Extending this practice to construction would lower spending through low-cost building made possible by nearly free-of-cost materials. For now, the projects being done are the work of highly visionary individuals, and therefore they remain marginal, independent undertakings.

Cans incorporated into the wall of a construction project

Following the example of tires, glass or plastic bottles, cans, screens, wrappers, and all kinds of objects, other materials can be used. Materials from construction and demolition sites, amounting to tons of non-biodegradable "waste" whose management poses problems, could be tomorrow's construction materials. The way has been paved for greater harmonization between construction's economic, social and environmental aspects. All that remains is to find out how to best harness new recycling technologies and how to democratize them.

The gamble may appear risky, but would it be unthinkable to dedicate a bit of money to exploring processes and methods for transforming waste with the goal of finding reliable construction techniques that are applicable to several types of buildings? Would it not be a profitable investment since it would lead to a considerable reduction in construction costs, leading to decent housing for more people, in addition to true progress in handling the tricky question of waste and pollution?

Some think that this concept could revolutionize the world of building. We can't confirm anything yet, but the subject deserves to be explored nevertheless.

Can stressing the environmentally-conscious aspect of construction with recycled materials help to reduce the stigma currently associated with such building techniques?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Original article, originally published in French, here.