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.


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Plastic Bag Alchemy – “Object” or “Thing”?

Rotterdam-based research and design studio, ‘The New Raw’ has introduced a new public initiative ‘Print your City!’ looking to turn plastic waste into functional furniture. This alchemy of trash to treasure has produced the xxx bench (first outcome of the project). This is what it looks like!

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You can take a look at more of them here!

The bench is made from plastic pellets from processed municipal waste or flakes from ground up recycled products and then printed with a large scale 3-D printer.

Check out how it is made here!


Plastic follows a linear life cycle from production, to use, to disposal (most plastics end up in landfills where their short life cycles are essentially over). This project changes this trajectory by closing the loop, giving these plastics new use and function. The bench – taking the form of a double-sided rocking chair requiring users to find equilibrium or work together to rock each other – also makes a statement about cooperating to close the plastic loop.

I found that Ingold’s (2011) mental framework, of distinguishing between “object” and “thing”, a useful way to engage with the xxx bench. While an “object” is complete and unitary, a “thing” is a dynamic and organic gathering of materials (Ingold, 2011, Heidegger, 1971).

We tend to think of plastics as “objects” in complete, final and already-made forms, like plastic bottles, bags and disposable packaging, prioritising processes of consumption in this mental framework (Ingold, 2011). Further changes that these plastics undergo occur as part of phases of human consumption. As such, from an object-centred perspective, the making of the xxx bench is labelled as “recycling”.

However, if we perceive these plastics as “materials” and the dynamic gathering of plastics to form the xxx bench, as a “thing”, we are able to isolate the innate potential that plastic, as a material, possesses for further making and transformation. In a world of materials, things are always on the way to becoming something else and materials are substances-in-becoming (Ingold, 2011; Barad, 2003). Hence the xxx bench is not the product of recycling of plastic bags but a part of the life of the plastic in itself. When people engage with the xxx bench as a thing, they join its process of ongoing formation, rendering it its power to make a statement as thing (Ingold, 2011).

Perhaps the new way forward for “recycling” is to direct our attention to the perdure of materials rather than a fixation on their inertial forms as objects of our daily consumption. To this end, where do you see the future of disposed tin cans and electronic hardware?


I found this reading particularly useful: 

Ingold, T. (2011) ‘Towards an Ecology of Materials’, Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 41, 427 – 442.

Ingold (2011) drew on this quite a bit:

Heidegger, M. (1971) Poetry, Language, Thought, New York: Harper and Row.

And more 🙂

Barad, K. (2003) ‘Posthumanist performativity: towards an understanding of how matter comes to matter’, Signs, Vol. 28, 801 – 831.

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Enevo and Rotterdam Cooperates to Transition to Smart Waste Management

In 2016, Rotterdam extended a Paper and Cardboard Waste project with Enevo, leading innovator in smart waste-management. This project sought to increase monitoring of waste containers and use of Enevo Smart-Plan software for optimised waste collection route-planning in Rotterdam.

This video provides an introduction to the project!


The multi-storey, residential apartments in Rotterdam utilises a central waste collection system. This places the onus of ensuring that the underground containers are emptied reliably on the municipality of Rotterdam. To encourage recycling, waste collection needs to be made convenient for citizens, necessitating an optimal number and placement of receptacles along with scheduled collections to ensure space in the recycling containers.

I found the use of Geel’s (2004) framework for transitions in socio-technical regimes and Van de Poel’s (2000) framework for examining external pressure, useful in crystallising Rotterdam’s transition to a smart waste-management system.

Geel (2004) identified three dimensions of socio-technical regimes: regulative, normative, and cognitive. I identified the existing mechanisms under each heading for Rotterdam’s case-study here:

  • Regulative – previous waste management system implemented by the government
  • Normative – the lifestyles, habits and technical systems that people are used to
  • Cognitive – core competencies of waste-management operators that turn into rigidities when operators are resistant to change

Regime transformation entails change in existing norms, regulations and beliefs that fall into these three categories (Geel, 2006).

External pressure from outsiders (definition: actors excluded from the community) are highly influential in these transitions (Van de Poel, 2000). In the case of Rotterdam, they fall into the Van de Poel’s (2000) categories of: (1) professional engineers who impart knowledge and design concepts, and (2) firms and entrepreneurs that develop technological novelties to match these concepts.

  1. Professional engineers introduce big data, analytics, and Internet of Things (IoT) technology to aid Rotterdam’s government in uncovering more efficient waste management and recycling practices
  2. Firm and entrepreneurs – Enevo and its smart waste-management solution for Rotterdam (illustrated below)
Enevo's Smart Waste Management Solution
Key aspects of Enevo’s smart waste management solution


Fill-level data collection, forecasting (with data analytics), cloud data sharing and efficient daily route planning


Driver route guidance via in-vehicle tablet
Driver route guidance via in-vehicle tablet

I hope the two frameworks were fruitful ways to explicate the mechanisms behind the cooperation between Rotterdam and Enevo!

I personally find that they are useful ways for understanding how rigidities and resistance to change stymie green transformations in the city. While technological solutions may be foreign and unfamiliar, they provide a propitious means to enhance the efficiency of urban metabolic flows of waste and recyclables. Using bodily metabolic processes that sustain human life to understand flows of waste underlying the everyday functioning of cities (Marvin and Medd, 2006), perhaps it is useful to think metaphorically of Enevo’s smart-plan software as akin to a pacemaker sending electric pulses to the human heart. I guess humans, and the cities we build alike, just need a little technological oomph sometimes.


For a more detailed understanding of the 2 models:

Geels, F. (2004) ‘From sectoral systems of innovation to sociotechnical systems: insights about dynamics and change from sociology and institutional theory’, Research Policy, Vol. 33, No. 6, 897 – 920.

Van de Poel, I. (2000) ‘On the role of outsiders in technical development’, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, Vol. 12, No. 3, 383 – 397.

Other resources that helped me:

Geels, F. (2006) ‘The hygienic transition from cesspools to sewer systems (1840-1930): The dynamics of regime transformation’, Research Policy, Vol. 35, 1069 – 1082.

Marvin, S. and Medd, W. (2006) “Metabolisms of Obecity: Flows of Fat through Bodies, Cities and Sewers”, Environment and Planning A, Vol. 38, Issue 2, 137 – 149.

You can also read more about this project here:

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