The wisest of the three little pigs knew quite well that by constructing his home out of durable bricks rather than straw or sticks (as his unfortunately gobbled-up brothers had done), he’d ensure his physical safety from the jaws of a persistent wolf. Those that seek out sound building materials in non-fairy-tale land continue to gravitate toward the sustainable resource due to its excellent load-bearing qualities, versatility and a diverse color palate. As much as dried and fired clay seems to be a humble and practical resource, modern manufacturing methods have rendered the production of bricks not only energy intensive, but also environmentally polluting. The greatest culprit (aside from the consumption of wood and coal to keep plants running) is the resulting production of toxic emissions that contain high volumes of sulfur/nitrogen oxides and carbon particulates. As long as there are humans walking the earth, we will continue to require sound building supplies, but the good news is that in this day and age of heightened eco-awareness, we are increasingly turning toward more sound alternatives that enable Mother Nature to rest a bit easier. It’s hard to imagine being able to improve on the sheer practicality of the clay brick, and yet a group of Indonesian students have managed to do so with the development of their EcoFaeBricks, which repurpose a plentiful waste product to extremely clever effect. What’s the one organic material that our world will continue to have an excess of as long as we maintain a diet heavy in meat and dairy products? Cow dung. Interestingly, six Prasetiya Mulya Business School students brainstormed a way to create a virtual brick clone composed of 75% cattle waste that is rendered scent-free following a biogas-fired process. In addition to being 20% lighter than conventional bricks and 20% stronger, producing EcoFaeBricks prevents 1,693 tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere annually and helps to improve the financial health of local farmers, since they are compensated for the raw material. The very notion of one’s home being composed of animal excrement may be off-putting to most, so it’s quite likely that Gert de Mulder’s Recy-Blocks will appeal to the finicky consumer who still has the longevity of our planet at the forefront of his or her mind. While we are continually reminded that plastic has become somewhat of an eco-demon in our global society, there is something unarguably angelic about scooping it up out of our landfills and transforming it into upcycled building blocks that can be used to create dwellings or decorative walls. In this case, the designer presses plastic packaging waste into rectangular pillow-shaped forms, applies high heat and voilà, a resulting solid block is created that bears all of the hallmarks of its motley origins, including tape remnants, plastic sheeting and even the slight suggestion of bubble wrap (depending on the variety). There’s even a decorative version available — using reclaimed white-toned plastics — that is carefully embedded with dried botanicals for those who want to shout their eco-leanings from the highest rooftop or partitioned interior divider. Both products are still being refined (the former is far closer to being available in the marketplace at this point in time than the latter), but they offer great hope to those who are pursuing sustainable lifestyles. We can’t help but be reminded with such items that going green extends to all corners of our daily lives, not just with regard to what we eat, drive and wear, but also in terms of the materials that we choose to build our homes with and the things that we ultimately feather our nests with. While committing to a truly eco-friendly construction project can require vast financial resources, if you are fortunate enough to pursue that route, there are so many interesting new options cropping up on a regular basis that greenies of all commitment levels should rightfully be jumping for joy!
Another (Eco) Brick in the Wall
Mother Nature-approved building materials are popping up left and right, and from some unlikely sources.