There is something interesting about how birds and flying insects create shelter. They rarely use living matter! Most birds make nests with dried twigs and fallen feathers; honey bees do not use any outside material; wasps build with mud; beetles live in holes dug into dried up trees and the story can go on.
Most animals neither use fresh materials for sheltering themselves nor do they produce waste during the making of the shelter. We of course continue to ignore the waste, instead produce waste during sheltering ourselves.
Even today, we see the economically weak people create city shelters using discarded materials such as film posters, wood from container boxes, coconut leaves, used tin sheets, tree branches and flex banners. It is not that everyone should build such slum-like houses, but realise that humans are still capable of finding ways to turn the discarded into designs, which we mostly ignore. Especially, in a professionally made structure with architects and engineers, it’s all formal architecture.
There are exceptions like the Manav Sadhana Centre in Ahmedabad by architect Yatin Pandya, a multiple award winning project evolved around and with waste materials such as plastic bottles filled with mud, glass bottles embedded into walls and ceilings, wooden crates resized and refitted, and broken ceramic brought together in varied patterns. It could be among the best examples in India for designing with the discarded.
Among the easier systems doable in any city is the wall with glass bottles. Collect bottles of preferably same type, choose the sides and build with rich mortar as a non-load bearing wall. Slippage due to bad bonding and cracks between the two materials are the only two major problems here that can be easily solved. A more advanced application is to cast the bottles as panels, by keeping them in a mold with required spacing and then concrete poured around to get the pre-cast element. Spacing can be deliberately varied to create interest, but verticality of the wall is important.
Electrical conduits cannot be embedded within the wall, so have to be outside the surface or better avoided on such walls. External waterproofing needs to be done with approved liquid applications, with plastering and painting costs saved upon. The bottle wall provides light without glare and heat.
Historically people built with locally available unwanted materials much more than today. Nowadays, manufacturing the new product is so dominating, even the idea of recycling waste into a house will not be to the liking of most people. The exception could be with antique doors, windows and pillars which are still accepted by the discerning when they get a building done.
Building with waste is surely an extreme approach towards sustainability and the ideas may not be best suited for all contexts. However, every such alternative idea will have some most suited contexts also. Then, we need to think of waste.