Sustainability is a complex issue extending well beyond renewable energy and alternatives to single-use plastics. For instance, did you know that the tiles in your kitchen and the bricks that make up your wall are entirely non-recyclable? Unless construction materials get upcycled (that is to say, reused in a new project exactly as they are) it is extremely likely that, once they are no longer needed, they will end up as non-biodegradable landfill waste. Once again, an Italian company is trying to offer an alternative in the form of “bio-bricks”, a kind of bioplastics made from organic materials that could replace plastic-derivated ones in packagings, construction, and several other civil engineering applications.
From agricultural byproducts to bio-bricks
The concept of bio-bricks is easy: these zero-impact, plastic-free components are made from agricultural byproducts. This is also a step in the direction of circular economy, in that it uses waste to create new products, thus saving on raw materials, protecting natural resources, and turning expenses into profits for the agricultural firms that provide them. The researchers involved in the development of the Italian bio-bricks have managed to combine biotechnologies with architecture and industrial design to create a product whose practical applications are virtually endless. The original waste material was sourced from farming and forestry activities and products from the undergrowth of Mount Cervati – the second highest mountain in Campania. The final product is biodegradable and self-recyclable and has a potentially infinite biological cycle.
A positive impact on local communities
One of the most interesting aspects of circular economy is that it tends to create virtuous cycles that uplift different parts of the systems in which it is implemented. In this case, for instance, the new manufacturing process required to source and adapt the aforementioned raw materials and byproducts has opened up new training and occupational possibilities for the local communities, in a region in which unemployment is historically high, particularly in the rural areas. The project itself has become a positive factor in the growth of the region. Moreover, the production of bio-bricks does not require complex industrial plants and is in itself extremely sustainable.
Giving new life to waste
The concepts of reducing, reusing, and recycling are usually only mentioned in relation to individual habits and the sustainability of western lifestyles. What this discourse usually leaves out is the uncomfortable truth that individual choices, while commendable and important, are infinitely less impactful and effective than choices that happen at an industrial level. In other words, if a company decides to produce sustainably, its positive impact on the environment is incalculably higher than that of the eco-conscious individual choices of its consumers. Giving new life to waste on an industrial level is the best way to ensure sustainable growth.