Importance of Recycling and Waste Into Use in Architecture

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Importance of recycling and waste into use in architecture


In the present day the most pressing environmental problem is global warming and climate change. This problem of global warming and climate change are majorly caused due to the co2 emissions, caused by the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. But it also comes from deforestation. Today lots of co2 emissions are taking place due to the activities of man. One of them is the production of different materials and products. These products are made for specific purposes, which satisfies the human need. Once the product is not purposeful anymore, they are considered as waste. Today these wastes have become a serious problem. This paper describes how these products have contributed to global warming throughout its life cycle and finally ends up as a waste. And how an architects can reuse those waste products for design and construction purposes. As a secondary case study the works of architect Michael Reynolds and Shigeru Ban has been analysed and discussed. The idea is to cater to the present day booming need of thinking smartly for the problems of environment as a whole. The paper concludes with an attempt to adopt the discussed technique into simple day today tool of small furniture. This experiment is an illustration of how easily can ne adopt this concept into any scale of design and contribute towards nature.

Keywords: Embodied energy, Global warming, Life cycle of products, Recycling, Sustainability.


At present, the rising demand of what we state as ‘resource’ has led us to think about, are things around us merely a resource? The beautiful nature, is it just for us to consume? Aren’t we equally responsible to take care of the same? We have now taken in our hands the creation and destruction of anything and everything as per our need and comfort. We create products for our use and then it’s the same ‘us’ who regard it a waste. It’s ultimately us, who are the creators of both the product and the waste.

Today, there are unlimited man-made by-products, example-tires, bottles etc. which can be used as construction materials. As a matter of fact all these products are free of cost. These by-products are considered as waste (a situation in which something valuable is not being used) in common. Now it is time to access all the materials and give a proper place possible in the building as an architect.

The idea of the study is to analyse what can be done to consume less energy. As energy is not something which is going to last forever, it’s our responsibility to think about it before it becomes too late. And consumption of too much of energy and resources are responsible for other problems like pollution and finally global warming. With the advancement of technology, industries today are producing products and materials in abundance, least bothered about environmental effects.

The objective of the paper is to find out an alternative method for the present life cycle of material so that, we as an architect can have our contribution towards the whole problem that the world is encountering today. The whole process should also contribute to the profession of an architect in order to create something more creative and sustainable together.

The life cycle of the materials

In order to know the importance of recycling any produc and to evaluate the method of recycling, it is important to know its life cycle. Every products has similar life cycle, and throughout its entire cycle of life time, the material consumes energy in different forms, from the initial stage of manufacturing till the end of its use. Which is shown in the figure 1.1. This sum of energy inputs to make a product is its embodied energy.

Fig. 1.1. Energy consumptions and co2 emissions in different stages of production. Source:

To produce all these items or materials, it needs to use the resources of our planet. Firstly, the extraction of natural resources itself consumes large amount of energy and it also causes environmental degradation and contributes to global warming. These natural resources are pure in form, which are then processed to make the materials. In this process of production the resources has to be converted to acquire the specific item which involves great deal of energy consumption to convert those materials. After it is manufactured it goes for delivery, which requires transportation coast and energy. (Curran, 2006)

Smart and effective methods of recycling

Recycling can occur in several ways. A product might be reused, which is what happens when a plastic cup is washed and reused instead of being thrown away. It could be sent to product remanufacture, where the materials it contains are used to make another product. Hence these two types of recycling eliminates all the other production stages. Thus helping in reducing the negative impacts of resource depletion and co2 emissions. Which is shown in the figure 1.2 and figure 1.3.

Fig. 1.2. Showing how material re-using of product can save energy and waste by eliminating material production and manufacturing and delivery stage. Source:

Fig. 1.3. Showing how material re-used to manufacture new products save energy and waste by eliminating material production stage. Source:

Case studies

Two case studies are selected to set an example for both the above mentioned methods of recycling respectively.

Case I: Earthship

1.1 Introduction:

Earthship is an environmental friendly house made from recycled materials. Generally made of earth-filled tires, glass bottle and aluminium soda cans. The primary material utilized as a structural component of earthship is the automobile tire which is filled with compacted earth to form a modular, thermal mass brick. The other common recyclable items like glass bottles and aluminium cans are used as decorative wall components that creates an intriguing artistic design statement. (HODGE, 2007)

1.2 History:

The concept of earthship was originated by Michael Reynolds a southern US architect, with the visionary intent for these homes to be autonomous and everlasting while characteristically aligning with the environment rather than deteriorating it. Reynolds had been experimenting on this building ever since he graduated from architecture school in 1968. (HODGE, 2007)

Tsunami in the year 2004. Mike and his crew shows the survivors how to use tyres, plastic bottles and bamboo to build house. The project succeeded and was granted immediate approval by the Indian authorities. (HODGE, 2007)

It was a great boost for Reynolds. Then he continues his next work at New Orleans which was attacked by hurricane Katrina on august 29, 2005. Followed by another hurricane pummelling northern Mexico and Texas. (HODGE, 2007)

1.3 Objectives

  • To reduce the overall negative effects that conventional housing has on the planet. As it relates to the earth's ability to continue to support life.
  • To build a self-sustainable house which will change the lifestyle of the people for dependency on dwindling supplies of water, gas and oil.

1.4 Advantages

Energy efficiency- the earth packed tyre wall provide a large amount of thermal mass, which keeps the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Self-sustainability- the earthship is designed to take advantage of natural resources. It uses recycle materials, passive solar energy, integrated water harvesting system and renewable solar and wind power.

Build ability- it can be built without having any specialized construction skills. Basic carpentry, plumbing and electric skills are required.

Easy availability- since it uses recycled materials, like tyres, bottles etc. it’s easy to get those items. (Michael Reynolds, 2014)

1.5 Nature of the materials

To satisfy the design goal and performance requirements of an earthship biotecture, the nature of the material for an earthship must have certain characteristics established. Which should align with the environment of the planet, rather than deteriorating it.

Indigenous- the material should be easily found all over the planet. So that it is easily accessible to the common people. Else shipping materials from long distance is not sustainable which uses excessive amount of energy. But in spite of being indigenous, if the material requires massive amount of energy to fashion into a usable form, then it would not be sustainable. Therefore we must explore materials and methods which are not dependent on manufactured energy so that it can contribute to the well-being of the planet rather than exploit it.

Thermal mass- the material which envelope the earthship should be dense and massive in order to store the temperature required to provide a habitable environment.

Durability- we should search for the material that is durable as an inherent quality rather than trying to paint for durability.

Resilient- earthquakes is an issue that has to be taken into consideration, which release horizontal movement or shaking to the structure, so we should choose such material with resilience. Brittle materials like concrete breaks and crack. So should prefer a structural material that is rubbery or resilient. Which would allow flexibility without failure. (Michael Reynolds, 2014)

Case II: Shigeru ban’s recyclable paper cardboard tubes

Japanese architect Shigeru Ban designs temporary housing made of paper tubes in disasters areas. In temporary housing, buildings are demolished in a year or half, as a result lots of industrial wastes are being produced. (Ban, 2013) To make pre-construction of temporary housing better, Ban constructs his disaster relief shelters by employing recyclable cardboard paper tubes for columns, walls and beams. Better in the sense that this recyclable paper tubes are locally available, inexpensive, easy to transport, mount and dismantle and most importantly they are recyclable.

Bans humanitarian work began with the response to the 1994 conflict in Rwanda, which threw lots of people into tragic living conditions. Before his work, the refugees were provided shelter by constructing houses of aluminium poles and plastic sheets, which was not economical for this type of construction. Ban proposed his idea of paper tube shelters to the United Nations High Commission for refugees. And during 1995, earth quake in Kobe, Japan, Ban developed the “paper log house”. For foundation beer crates filled with sand bags are used, while paper tubes are lined up vertically for walls and the roofs are covered with plastic sheets. (AD Editorial Team, 2014) The units are easy to dismantle and the materials are appropriate for recycling. (Preston & Bank, 2012)

Discussion and suggestion

Both the case studies can be taken as standard examples of how the idea of utilizing waste into architectural vocabulary can be carried out. These two case studies state method of reusing of a waste in an effective way which is much more innovative and effective than the conventional method of recycling. The idea is to understand the overall process of designing with the help of such materials and techniques. Michael Reynolds’ process of recycling and reusing the waste products to use it as an alternative building material is cutting short the whole process of producing construction material and also further processing of the same. Similarly, on the other hand Shigeru Bans’ smart selection of recyclable paper tubes prevents the miss use of other potential and expensive construction materials.

Therefore the best option for cutting down the negative effects of the production of different materials and products is; 1. Use of recycling materials as much as possible; 2. Use of locally available materials to reduce the use of fuel and to prevent co2 gas emission while transportation of materials; 3. Use vernacular architecture.

An attempt: Furniture with paper cardboard.

Paper cardboard is basically made for packaging purposes only. Then they are being thrown away, as a result it ends up being waste and they hence form a very large portion of the domestic as well as commercial waste. Taking further the concept discussed in the paper till now, we can make use of this material in several ways. One of which can be to utilize them for making furniture. Furniture are mostly made from woods and metals. Making furniture's out of paper cardboard can be economical and environmental friendly. Furniture's life cycle are most likely to be maximum 5 to 7 years. The reason has various aspects regarding from strength, aesthetics, and human physiology. Thus why not use paper cardboards to make furniture's, which will serve the exact purpose.

Most common furniture's are table, chair and bed. Taking chair into consideration, the function of the chair is to support the whole weight of a person, which cardboard cannot do alone. Hence there is a need for this basic material to be improvised before direct use. Paper board has certain characteristics properties which are derived certainly from the way it is manufactured. The basic constitution of paper cardboard is outlined by three layers in which the top and bottom layer serve as the base and the middle layer is arranged in snaky manner, sandwiches with two layers of paper board. In our case the middle layer is the key factor in obtaining the board’s maximum strength, it is done in a manner that the middle layer has to run along perpendicular to pressure applied. The strength can also be obtained with different shapes and joints. In case of shape, cylindrical shape provides maximum strength. But the key factor mentioned above, that is the alignment of paper is mandatory.

The advantage of making furniture out of paper cardboard is that the chair or designed furniture will be light weight, easy to handle, easily movable and of course environment friendly. It’s easy to make because it doesn't require profession specialisation, use of very basic tools and little hard work will be more than enough.


The pace of blind development and industrialisation has today lead us to a point from where we can see the future of our coming generation drowned within the smoke of the devil industries, mines, refineries and many more. A world which will be totally isolated from what we know as our mother nature as we won’t be left with any of it. This never ending greed of humans is not leading the right way. There is a need to wake up and understand the roots of the problem to make it stop or slow down.

This paper talks about one some very small but basic problem and some attempts which can help us getting closer in obtaining a better world. It touches upon the process of manufacturing of any product and the by-products of the same. The paper talks about the various problems caused because of the wastage of used products. It highlights upon the alternate lifecycle of a product which can help in not only conserving energy but also in preventing a lot of environmental impact. Being an architect what role can be played in the whole process and how can we contribute towards the same by adopting these used materials into our built forms without sacrificing to any other aspect of the building.

The two discussed cases help us to get an overall view of the whole attempt and how can such a methodology be best adapted keeping in mind the aesthetic of the building intact. The materials used in both the cases are basic materials of waste which we all are familiar with. The first case Michael Reynolds is a revolutionary concept which has inspired a lot of architect all over the world. The efficiency of the architect in achieving the desired is exemplary. The philosophy of cutting short the process of recycle of material has been well achieved. The second case of Shigeru Bans is also reflecting upon the creativity and awareness of the architect in achieving simple but unique design with the help of basic materials which were considered waste for construction.

Towards the end the paper leads to an attempt of designing a product of architectural use with the help of similar “waste considered” materials. The design of the furniture is an example carried out to understand how the spectrum of this concept can vary from big architectural elements to a small architectural component as furniture. The very basic design of a simple chair can be taken as model to think about this whole idea in all scales and also different materials.

The paper ends with a small note of suggestion about what are the various things that can be kept in mind while selecting a material and how efficient can be the whole process economically too.


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  4. HODGE, O. (Director). (2007). GARBAGE WARRIOR [Motion Picture].
  5. Michael Reynolds, K. J. (2014, october 4). Retrieved from
  6. Preston, S. J., & Bank, L. C. (2012). Portals to an Architecture: Design of a temporary structure with paper tube arches. Construction and Building Materials.