Central to the concept of the circular economy is the reintegration of materials typically viewed as waste back into the production cycle.
This concept is particularly important for the construction industry, and nothing is more symbolic than the brick.
Creative minds have embraced the challenge of circularity, devising solutions that transform discarded materials into high-value resources and generating a wide range of products. In this article, seven initiatives that are turning waste into bricks are highlighted.
Turning algae into housing
The invasion of non-native seaweed along the Mexican coast led local communities to organise beach clean-ups, as the malodorous invading species began causing respiratory problems among the population. Omar Vázquez Sánchez, the founder of Blue-Green in Puerto Morelos, saw an opportunity to repurpose this natural resource as a primary building material. After six years of conceptualisation and experimentation, he successfully built a house using seaweed mixed with adobe.
credit: Kenotec K-BRIQ® is available in a range of 13 stock colours, all made from recycled pigments.
These Sargablocks have shown remarkable resilience, evidenced by its ability to withstand seismic activity and hurricane winds, confirmed by tests carried out by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). A small residence, completed in just 15 days, consumed 50% fewer resources than a conventional social housing unit, and stands out especially for its high thermal inertia, allowing heat to accumulate during the day and to be released at night.
- Bricks made with Sargassum seaweed transform an environmental problem into a sustainable raw material.
Urban waste for a facade
For the renovation and expansion of the Design Museum Gent, the facade will be covered with Gent Waste Brick. Made mainly from crushed concrete, masonry and glass from demolished buildings, the block uses materials collected mainly within a five-mile radius of the museum. The raw materials are shaped into bricks, which then undergo a dry-curing process over 60 days.
credit: Gjenge Makers Gjenge Makers in Kenya converts discarded plastic into eco-bricks that are highly resistant, cost-effective and have a positive environmental impact.
Gent Waste Brick absorbs carbon from the air during its curing process, sequestering carbon dioxide and becoming more resistant in the process. Over an estimated lifespan of 60 years, each brick will produce a third of the amount of CO₂ of a conventional brick. They will be used on the outside of the museum’s expansion, which is scheduled for completion in 2024.
- Ground waste materials combined with lime form these dry-cured bricks.
Giving new meaning to plastic waste
Kenya: In Nairobi, Nzambi Matee, a Kenyan engineer, seeks to convert discarded plastic into eco-bricks that are highly resistant, cost-effective and have a positive environmental impact.
The technique developed to turn this waste into a building material combines crushed plastic with sand, forming a mouldable mixture which, after exposure to heat, turns into a sturdy, lightweight block with advantages over concrete: Sustainable bricks have seven times greater strength, are lighter, economically viable and ecologically beneficial. In addition, they cost up to 15% less to produce and, due to the fibrous nature of the plastic, air pockets are eliminated during the production process, resulting in great compressive strength and greater durability.
Netherlands: Developed by Precious Plastic, this innovative recycled brick solution addresses the challenges of plastic pollution and affordable housing.
Produced with open-source recycling machines, each brick can retain 1,5kg of plastic waste and is designed for easy assembly and interlocking, allowing for quick construction, even by inexperienced builders. These bricks are potentially useful for the construction of affordable housing, disaster shelters and public buildings, with an emphasis on their adaptability. Shared on Precious Plastic’s platform as part of the #Openbrick movement, the initiative presents a promising way to combat plastic pollution, advance sustainable construction and meet global housing needs.
- Overcoming the dual issues of plastic waste and reducing carbon emissions produced by the construction industry.
K-BRIQ®: Pioneering the circular economy in construction
Produced by Kenoteq in the United Kingdom (UK) comes K-BRIQ®, made from recycled inert materials in a low-carbon alternative to traditional masonry, adaptable to both interior and exterior environments. Compared to a conventional clay brick, it has a carbon footprint of less than 5%, as it does not go through the firing process. About 90% of its content comes from recycled construction waste, and it doesn’t require the use of cement. The construction unit has a coloured finish that requires no painting or surface treatment and has the potential for a variety of different colours using recycled pigments.
Certified by the BBA and backed by an Environmental Product Declaration, K-BRIQ® is available in a range of 13 stock colours, all made from recycled pigments.
- The unit’s performance characteristics and its “buildability” make it suitable for most applications normally reserved for traditional brick/cement products.
Using industrial waste
Rhino Blocks: Pioneered by entrepreneur Manish Kothari, owner and managing director of Rhino Machines, Rhino Bricks offer a solution for brickmaking and the use of industrial waste. These products are made up of 75% foundry dust and 25% recycled plastic, and they are 2,5 times stronger and 25% lighter than traditional bricks. Their unique composition allows them to withstand greater pressures compared to conventional clay bricks, maintaining structural integrity even when subjected to drilling or splitting. Rhino Bricks are manufactured very quickly and can be ready for use just 30 minutes after production.
- Previously unusable fine foundry dust finds is a crucial element in these bricks, while the recycled plastic acts as an effective bonding agent, replacing the need for water.
“Building the Local” project: Raw material can also come from unusual places. Ellie Birkhead, a graduate of the Design Academy Eindhoven, has been developing ecological bricks through her “Building the Local” project. Her bricks are made using clay mixed with horse manure, glass bottles from a pub, wool, straw ash from a farm, spent grain from a brewery and human hair from a hairdresser.
By incorporating materials specific to the region, Birkhead nurtures the link between architecture, aesthetics and culture, reinvigorating craftsmanship. Her venture echoes a wider call to safeguard threatened industries and skills, highlighting the urgency of preserving heritage in a changing world. The “Building the Local” project is a testament to creative sustainability and respect for the local legacy, guiding everybody towards a more conscious future.
- This project revives the brick legacy of the Chiltern Hills, combating the impact of globalization on local industries.
By redefining waste as a valuable resource, the construction industry is witnessing an ecological revolution driven by innovative minds. From the use of invasive seaweed to create resilient homes, to the transformation of discarded plastic into robust bricks, the circular economy finds expression in bricks that encapsulate environmental and social value – shaping attractive, durable and affordable housing. As the world searches for creative ways to tackle global challenges, these stories of transformation inspire the adoption of responsible practices and the building of a more conscious tomorrow.
Issue: Finding an alternative way to build and recycle waste.
Solution: Using raw waste materials that range from seaweed and plastics to human hair to construct bricks, not only addresses pressing environmental issues but essentially redefines the way spaces are built and inhabited.
Alternate raw materials used in bricks:
- Invasive sargassum seaweed
- Construction waste material
- Plastic waste
- Recycled construction waste
- Industrial waste
- Organic waste
Full acknowledgement and thanks go to https://www.archdaily.com for the information in this editorial.