Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Re-users are taking the ‘f’ out of refuse


  • This article was first published  in Sustainable Building, 14 April 2014
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Refurbishment, re-use and upcycling was the focus of a new sub-conference and exhibition at Ecobuild, called Resource.
Michael Pawlyn, founder of the ground-breaking sustainable architectural practice Exploration, revealed some innovative bio-mimicry projects in a special lecture on the ‘circular economy,’ pointing out that “nature works in closed loops with generally zero waste... and is regenerative rather than extractive.”
He called the most deplorable form of waste “under-utilised human waste,” and argued that we “need to use courage and imagination to scale up from bio-models in the environment to its mimicked version in eco-engineering.”
Examples given included the De Kas restaurant in Amsterdam, which was created in 2001 by Michelin-starred top chef Gert Jan Hageman. The restaurant uses a bio-digester to recycle waste into a fertiliser, which is then put back into the adjoining vegetable and fruit nursery garden that serves the restaurant. There are also shaded areas under solar collection farms that grow plants in the desert, and a greenhouse that recycles sea water to create high humidity, adopting the natural design of a beetle shell.
Mr Pawlyn lamented that, so far, research councils have not supported this bio-mimicry which relies on philanthropic support.
There were also splendid presentations on reusing building materials and household objects such as tables, cupboards and white goods. One presentation by Richard Featherstone (development manager of London Reuse Ltd) showed how his company is working with the Wandsworth borough and others across London in the capital’s Re-use Network (LRN) to reduce the waste going to landfill, refurbishing and repairing goods that otherwise would be thrown away. They are made available at affordable cost to London’s hard pressed, low-income families.
Mr Featherstone – who has been named one of the ‘Masters of Waste’ in Resource magazine’s ‘Hot 100’ list, and who is a life president of the Furniture Re-use Network – said he “hated waste.” He pleaded for a rebrand and makeover of recycling, saying we need to take the ‘f’ out of refuse!
He recognised that there is a stigma about buying re-use products, such as furniture, and promoted the slogan: donate-repair-reuse, driven by poverty reduction, community environmental enhancement and fund raising for charity.
He conceded there needed to be extra creativity to envisage second and third uses for products. Some examples he gave were re-using old benches as bookshelves.
Mr Featherstone observed: “we, at London Re-use, are working towards re-use becoming mainstream in waste management rather than an optional extra. In the next two years we are going to see the increasing importance of saving re-usable household products from the waste stream to supply the growing social need in the event of a shrinking Social Fund. I’m holding firm to LRN’s vision of London as a city where re-use is easy, popular and normal. A city which maximises the economic, environmental and community benefits of re-use with an unrivalled infrastructure which becomes an international model for re-use.” 
Mr Featherstone said that in Flanders, Belgium, there was a vibrant re-use sector led by the De Kringwinkel supermarket chain.
Jonathan Essex, an associate at Bioregional, added that because 10% of UK greenhouse gases arise from the construction sector, it was ripe for reusing materials. He asserted that: “to be zero carbon we need to be not just zero carbon in use but zero carbon in construction materials.”
Retrofitting old buildings is more carbon efficient than demolition and new build, Mr Essex said, arguing that deconstruction rather than demolition should be the primary approach. He gave the example of nine old warehouses on the Olympic Park site in London, which were deconstructed to flat packs and reconstructed elsewhere. Newer buildings that comprised part of the Olympic venues were similarly deconstructed and will be used at the Olympics in Brazil in 2016.

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