A pet hate of mine has been plastics. The profligate use of them in shopping has annoyed me for years but thankfully countries have realised that this usage simply cannot go on as it has been. Researching this use in buildings, I came across other good ways of recycling waste products and I am mentioning just a few of them here. The building and construction sector consumes more than 9.6 million tonnes of plastics, roughly 20 per cent of the total European plastics consumption, thereby making it the second largest plastic application after packaging.

Plastic pipes, for instance, command the majority of all new pipe installations, with well over 50 per cent of the annual tonnage. This share is still growing. Although plastics are not always visible in buildings, both the building and construction industries use them in a wide and expanding range of applications, such as piping, window frames and interior design. Apart from being used too much in today’s consumer industry, plastics can also be quite useful, mainly for their insulation properties. They provide insulation from cold and heat, prevent leakages and let households save energy while reducing noise pollution. Here are some rather good ideas for alternative methods:

One interesting design comes to us from Norway, where over one million tonnes of paper and cardboard is recycled every year. The wood is created by rolling up paper and solvent-free glue to create something not dissimilar to a log and then chopping it up into usable planks. The wood can then be sealed so it’s waterproof and flameretardant, and used to build anything you would normally build with wood.

Colourful bricks can be made from old plastic bags which are simply everywhere and are notoriously difficult to recycle in any other way. Recycled bags or plastic packaging are placed in a heat mould, and then forced together to form the blocks. They are too lightweight to act as load-bearing walls, but can be used to divide up rooms or outdoor areas.

Another idea rests on the assumption that animal blood counts as a waste product. This is a potentially offensive idea but, while carnivores are still munching away, they’re wasting loads of animal blood, especially in societies without industrialised food production systems. As it turns out, blood is one of the strongest bio-adhesives out there, as it contains high levels of protein.

British architecture student Jack Munro proposed using freeze-dried blood (which comes as a powder), mixed with sand to form a paste and then be cast as bricks. This could be especially useful in remote communities, where blood from animal slaughter is plentiful but strong construction materials are thin on the ground. It is a good alternative to use a waste product as such.

Somewhat different is the concept of producing a consumer product specifically so it can later be used as a building material. Many companies today make bottles in cuboid or other tesselative shapes, so they are easier to transport.

Thanks to Heineken in the 1960s… Alfred Henry Heineken, owner of the brewery, visited a Caribbean island and was dismayed at both the lack of shelter and the number of discarded Heineken bottles scattered everywhere. He wondered what he could do about this. The company thought of a new brick-shaped design for the bottle, in which the bottleneck slots into the base of the next bottle, forming an interlocking line.

Some rather nice wall or floor tiles can be made by combining recycled granulated cork with whole wine corks. This is a pretty useful idea, considering the world apparently consumes around 31.7 billion bottles of wine a year. Another excellent way of using a discarded product after having enjoyed its original contents!