For us common people, we consider agricultural wastes like manure, leaf litter, and crop residues as things that have limited value. Sure, we can turn ‘em into compost, but it takes time, not to mention the huge load of production of these wastes daily.
But what if these agro wastes can turn into something more? Won’t these be valuable?
Won’t it be nice if they can help with sustainable construction? Meaning, they may become treasure for construction material companies or manufacturers one day?
Because for now, the construction industry hasn’t been exactly environmentally friendly. It’s produced multiple pollutants and it’s affected natural ecosystems.
And despite the existence of 3D printed houses and other greener construction materials, the conventional ones like concrete remain an industry standard. Well, it’s not hard to produce them and they’re more reliable and thus more desirable.
Imagine if we have sustainable and eco-friendly materials that are not costly, strong, and scalable so that in the future they can be more popular than concrete.
Apparently, agricultural wastes, which once was deemed disposable, have an unlikely potential as alternative building material. And right now, there are more, global research and innovation trying to explore what they can do.
Making a change in a well-established industry
Construction industry has largely remained unchanged until recent decade, and only in the last few years we start to see some steps towards greener future. It’s rather understandable, though, because past technology might not allow that to happen.
So previously, agro wastes in industrial scale usually ended up being just that, without any treatment or utilization—nothing. People used to simply burn them or pile them up in landfills, making things worse for global warming or climate change.
Today, every type of agro-waste creates a different set of possibilities and subsequent environmental benefits.
Previous study and discovery have shown us that agricultural wastes can become key materials to manufacture biofuels, antibiotics, animal feed, other chemicals, enzymes, and even vitamins.
In construction, they can solve two problems. Agriculture wastes can make construction materials more sustainable and organic while at the same time reducing landfill or waste problems.
Last year, researchers explored the application of agro-waste in developing construction materials like brick and masonry or green concrete.
Turns out, the 2020 study found that the integration of agro wastes like rice husks or sugarcane bagasse into construction processes results in improved materials. Using wastes begets sustainable, durable, and even cheaper construction materials.
And thanks to human creativity and bright minds, industry innovators have started to take advantage of the wastes’ benefits. ndian architect Shriti Pandey recently used agro waste to construct two COVID-19 care facilities in Bihar and Punjab.
Built from leftover pieces of harvested grain, the facilities are fire-proof, solar-powered, and “inherently thermally insulated”. Additionally, there was no water involved during the construction process.
As we can see from this example, construction materials using agriculture waste can be cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and known for its durability and longevity.
Aside of its sustainable properties, these green materials can aid areas with a rising demand for health facilities during the pandemic. The advantages are numerous both to environment and community members, so to speak.
Keeping up with the pace
Sure, research, study, and proof of feasibility are there, but if there are no more technological advancement to cater this discovery, the conventional materials can remain the industry standard in the future.
So, construction innovations are needed. That way agro wastes can continue being beneficial to humanity and may create a permanent change for the industry.
For example, now we have 3D printing construction materials using agriculture wastes. In fact, there are seven agro waste houses using 3D printing in this world. Each has a different architecture. The homes, which range from dome-shaped to cylindrical, were constructed of bioplastics, soil, straw and rice husks.
But, despite all these new, sustainable technologies, the one that’s really hard to change is the social part of this, aka humans.
We do wish that there will be a wider implementation of these changes—or in short, globally. But international thing has a lot of issues and complexity, and so completely changing the industry and making all people around the world to keep up with the change can take time.
But for now, as far as innovation and discovery work, we now have what it takes to make greener construction materials and reduce untreated agro wastes. And, we’ll no longer think of them as trash, but rather, valuable materials.
Plastic waste: a treasure for developing countries
One may think that wealthy countries have been unfairly ‘dumping’ their plastic trash (along with its environmental problems) to poorer countries. Maybe one’s conscience say that this is wrong or an act of ill treatment.
Well, what if it’s not always the case?
Researchers have found a bit of a bright side of this fact. They found that plastic waste may provide an economic boon for the lower-income countries.
Yikang Bai of Washington State University and Jennifer Givens of Utah State University analyzed 11 years of data on the global plastics trade against economic measures for 85 countries.
They discovered that the import of plastic waste could lead to growth in gross domestic product per capita in the lower-income countries.
“Our study offers a nuanced understanding of the global trade in plastic waste. Media coverage often has a narrative that developed countries shift environmental harms to less developed countries.
“There’s another layer of the story: plastic waste could be used as a resource first, even though ultimately it could still add to the environmental burdens of less-developed countries,” said Bai, the lead author on the study.
The study didn’t assess precisely how the developing countries use the plastic waste. But the authors said that it’s possible that they recycle some of the plastic for use in industry and manufacturing. There was also some evidence that the lower-income countries were trading the plastic waste among themselves regionally.
The waste issue still lingers
Givens said, “Most plastic doesn’t get recycled—that’s important to keep in mind. lot of plastic waste ends up in landfills or in the environment, so maybe it’s a silver-lining that importing plastic waste is associated with economic development in developing countries.
“At least they are recycling some of it and not using virgin materials because plastics are made from fossil fuel chemicals.”
The researchers added and emphasized that global trading of plastic waste has a lot of complexity.
After this, they plan to investigate the regional trade among countries as well as changes in more recent years. As we know, China has stopped taking plastic waste imports in 2018 and future research will include this change.
And even though there are economic benefits of ‘dumping’ plastic waste, reducing plastic waste entirely (and the negative impacts of it) is not one way. It’d still require changes from wealthy, big countries and the lower-income ones.
Bai concluded, “Some people might argue that developed countries need to create more ways to better process plastic waste domestically, instead of looking for other destinations for plastic waste overseas.
“The way we recycle plastic waste varies greatly across the United States. Some communities may do it well, but in others, there is still room for improvement. Producing and using less plastic would be another way to reduce environmental harms.”