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Would You Live in a House Made from Recycled Materials?

Take a look around your home. Your house or apartment is likely made from materials that were new at the time of construction. Such is the case for most American homes. Knowing that, here is a question worth pondering: would you live in a house constructed primarily with recycled materials? These homes really do exist.

CBS news ran a piece in early 2017 profiling eight homes constructed mostly from recycled materials. The homes are located around the world including locales in the Netherlands, Brazil, Africa, and even the U.S. All of them are ingenious in their design and resourceful in terms of the materials used to build them.

1.          Bottles, Timbers, and Ceramics

One of the houses profiled by CBS was a four-story townhome in Rotterdam. Its exterior consisted of bricks made from recycled materials. The builder collected fifteen tons of waste that included everything from glass to ceramics and clay. All of it was ground up and used to make the bricks.

You would never know what the bricks were made of just by looking at the house. It looks like any other brick house in Rotterdam. Yet the owners and builder know full well that fifteen tons of waste were kept out of a landfill to build this house.

Another profiled house was built to accommodate four generations of a single family in Mumbai, India. It was made with a variety of recycled materials including old windows and doors from demolished homes, salvaged stone columns, discarded fabrics, and waste stone from stone cutting operations.

Pictures of all eight homes do not even begin to tell the story. Each one of the houses is spectacular in its own right. The common component that ties them all together is the integration of recycled materials.

2.          A Common Recycling Theme

Just learning about these eight homes is tantalizing enough. But dig a little deeper and discover a common recycling theme among all of them. That theme is the choice of materials used. All the materials were ‘clean’ materials, which is to say that they were not mixed in or integrated with unwanted materials.

For example, all the windows and doors built into the Mumbai house came from other homes that had been demolished. They were used as-is. The windows and doors did not have to go through any special sorting or processing.

A selection of smaller homes featured in the CBS piece were built primarily from discarded glass bottles. Again, the bottles were separate and distinct. They did not need any special processing. They also didn’t need to be separated from paper, plastic, etc.

3.          Commercial Recycling

The kind of recycling that went into building these eight homes is a form of commercial recycling similar to what Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics does. Seraphim collects and processes a variety of commercial waste products including plastic bins, totes, and the waste produced by injection mold manufacturing.

They can make money recycling because the plastics they collect are clean. By contrast, the plastic ketchup and spaghetti sauce containers you throw in your curbside recycling bin are contaminated by paper labels stuck to the plastic with glue. It is a lot harder to recycle them cost effectively. This is why commercial recycling works well while curbside programs do not.

At any rate, building homes from recycled materials is a viable enterprise. You just need to find builders willing to do it and a steady source of materials to choose from. Given the chance, would you live in a home constructed of recycled timbers or old shipping containers? It is an interesting thing to think about.