Bricks made from Waste – New Value, New Life

From its mobilisation through dredging to the urban life it enables through its circulation, we see sand being metabolised and remade from its original form to a ‘second nature’ within the social world (Alexander and Reno, 2012: 1).

In this entry, we will look at how recycling intercedes in the transformation of sand from its “natural form” by substituting existing materials such as waste from ceramics and glass industries, rejected clay from traditional brick manufacturing and wastes from demolished buildings, to produce originals, taking the form of building bricks and household furniture, to a house that a young Rotterdam couple is now living in.

This idea began with Dutch startup, StoneCycling and here are examples of what they have produced:

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Aubergine Brick

Here’s an entire catalogue of StoneCycling’s WasteBasedBricks!

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Furniture made from waste


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Rotterdam couple’s house made completely from waste

Click here for the story behind this house:

From this, we see how waste is revalorised, afforded new value and new lives. However, reuse of materials is insufficient – the creation of new markets and the revaluing these products is an equally essential part of the process (Crang et al, 2012).

The appropriation of nature is not a one-way process and human beings, in turn, undergo a transformation. In other words, remaking remakes us (Alexander and Reno, 2012) and this transformation of urban society is evident in processes of recycling in the construction industry.

Firstly, in an industry that is typically risk-averse and profit-driven, with significant scepticism about building from waste, we have seen encouraging signs of willingness towards extra investment, a risk-taking mentality and new ways of living, building and designing for the environment.

Secondly, getting uncontaminated waste streams is a significant challenge. However, with discussions of a ‘building material passport’, a document detailing materials used in a building, the identification of reusable material is made possible even as the building reaches its end-of-life. Firms like StoneCycling are also developing agreements and connections with building owners and demolishing companies to incentivise strategic demolition over cheap demolition.

Demolition waste materials are revalued and reinserted into mainstream material flows, reducing the plunder of sand from its natural environment through the substitution of existing materials. The construction industry generates 65% of Dutch waste; a change of mentality to begin to perceive rubbish as not an endpoint but a fulcrum is key to rekindling its value (Crang et al, 2012).

Sand and sediment form the foundations of cities (literally). Every apartment block and skyscraper is made from concrete – the accretion of sand and gravel with cement. With unsustainable demands for construction sand, sand mining is causing environmental damage worldwide with fatal consequences on ecosystems.

You can read more about the damaging effects of sand mining here:

While it may be difficult to see beyond skyscapers and paved roads in our physical cities,

“Urbanization has swallowed the ‘city’ and the ‘countryside’, and places are now but one node in the hyper-networked and all-encompassing process of urbanization.” (Derickson, 2015)

The effect of sand mining on what might appear to be “far-flung” or “non-urban” areas is an issue we need to urgently think about in UPE, and recycling offers one way to begin.


These are some of the resources I used!

Alexander, C. and Reno, J. (2012) Economies of Recycling: The Global Transformation of Materials, Values and Social Relations, London, UK: Zed Books.

Derickson, K. D. (2015) ‘Urban geography I: Locating urban theory in the ‘urban age’’, Progress in Human Geography, Vol. 39, No. 5, 647 – 657.

Crang, M. Gregson, N., Ahamed, F. Ferdous, R. and Akhter, N. (2012) ‘Death, the Phoenix and Pandora: transforming things and values in Bangladesh’ in C. Alexander and J. Reno (eds) Economies of Recycling: The Global Transformation of Materials, Values and Social Relations, London, UK: Zed Books, 59 – 75.


(466 words)


One thought on “Bricks made from Waste – New Value, New Life”

  1. Hi Beatriz,

    Your post made me recall what we covered during Seth’s lecture on ‘Sand and Sediment’ and reminded me on the different ‘grades’ of sand with varying coarseness and its different application (e.g. sand used for sports and construction materials are different) as well as how sand mining often takes place in ‘non-urban’ areas and therefore is not something we are really concerned about.

    Your post on the recycling of waste materials and using them to substitute sand in construction is interesting and I can draw this in relation to the construction and land reclamation scene in Singapore. Singapore is the largest importer of sand worldwide (UNEP, 2014) and has often been caught up in controversy over sand extraction from its source countries – Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Indeed, other than re-looking at ways over land reclamation (e.g. empoldering), I think the construction industry and the government could look further into recycling waste materials and reintroducing them back into the circulation of urban materials – a scene that is still very much in its infancy in Singapore.

    Thank you for sharing!


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