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Handling construction waste

It is mostly dumped along the roadside and in empty plots, though large-scale builders are attempting to manage the waste within the site itself.

09bgp-greensensGGD2EHSGK3jpgjpgEvery visitor loves to see the neat orderly looks of the house site on the day of grihapravesha , with only the house owner knowing the tension that gripped him or her a few days ago, with construction waste half covering the place. After a few thousands of rupees was spent and a few tractor loads of debris was sent out, the house is clean and shining.

Every construction site in the city, from homes to hospitals, sends out debris, commonly called as construction waste. Does anyone think about where is this ‘outside’ – the magical land where the debris gets hidden? Sadly, the outside is often in the city itself, too often along the road sides and empty plots, showcasing the dirtier part of construction.

Even green buildings are not an exception to this phenomenon, though waste generation is one of the criteria in scoring the green points. Many large-scale builders are aware of the problem and are attempting to manage the waste within the site itself.

The Bangalore city corporation estimates that a typical construction site would generate anywhere between 40 to 60 kg. of waste and has made regulations identifying few landfill sites, mostly in neighbouring erstwhile villages. Legally, proper debris clearance is binding on the owners and occupants. The Karnataka Pollution Control Board has formulated guidelines for waste segregation and management, for mandatory follow-up. All cities across India have enacted similar

legal documents, though smaller towns have no policy at all for waste management.

Yet the problem continues with C & D (Construction and Demolition) waste with increasing magnitude, as our cities are building at a rate never seen before. The landfills identified by the authorities are far and few, which increase the cost of carting away. So, the tractor drivers dump the debris on some vacant area at midnight, which is known but goes unabated. Though these debris clearance contractors are small-time players, today their contacts can be collected from web sites.

Reusing is the key

The first step to greener sense is definitely to minimise waste by salvaging and reusing. Much of bricks, stone, cement blocks, broken concrete, aggregates and earthy materials can be reused within the project itself. Many others like glass, plastics, steel, and wood, can be additives in manufacturing. Broken glazed and flooring tiles can be laid in mosaic pattern.

Electrical and plumbing items can be bought to exact needs. Most containers and packaging can be used by people as storage options. As such, very few materials may have to reach landfills. Of course, all this is easier said than done, because very few people wish to segregate waste and reach each item to its logical end.

Green sense lies not only in building sensibly, but also in building responsibly. We will have to ensure that debris is never dumped on the roadside.

Shelter from waste

Human beings are capable of finding ways to turn discarded materials into designs.

25PP-greensense_25_2170773eThere 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.

Good example

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.

A vicious cycle

Can we all live with the least cost and least waste? 

IN02_THGAK_COMPOSTI_155514gTwo words that suggest the essence of sustainability could as well be ‘costs’ and ‘wastes’. Cost of living as we all understand it, to that end the need to earn money, pressure on companies to make perpetual profits so they can pay well, producing more goods to sell more – all this has become a vicious cycle.

Accordingly, despite flooding of data about what harm we are doing to nature, companies continue to advertise for people who can increase the market presence of their products, drive business growth, multiply rate of expansion, ensure stock prices soar, gather new partnerships and accelerate the company’s foothold across regions.

All of this would need increased production, packaging and consumption, resulting in increased wastages.

Both the costs and wastes are not absolute figures, but comparative by-products of our society and lifestyle. Now that both have acquired a dangerous level during our generation than at any time in history, many individuals tend to react to them as if we have no control on them. The fact is that we have created them, hence only we can control them.

Can we all live with the least cost and least waste? This slogan may appear attractive, but most of us can not possibly live with the least cost and least waste. However, let us realise there are millions of our Indian siblings who live so, though mostly out of compulsion. It’s because they live with least energy consumption, the high energy lifestyle of many of us gets compensated for in the calculation of the overall carbon emission figures for India.

However, if we resolve in our minds, we can gradually reduce our costs and wastes everyday. This individual action can compliment national or international efforts in reducing carbon emissions, promoting local productions, implementing policy decisions, extending global fuel deposits and any other idea that global experts suggest. The global and the individual can work together to save our race.

Our individual energy consumption or carbon footprint cannot be an absolute figure based on a national data or an idealised figure.

A company executive will consume more energy than a village farmer, but that cannot be a reason to shoot down the executive or to idolise the farmer. Both have their roles in the society we have built today, so the challenge is to contain the consumption within a societal role.

We are the solution…

While this column has attempted to explore alternative building methods, we need to realise that it is not the building that consumes energy but people. 

A century down the line, historians my write how the decades around the turn of the millennium have been epochal — realising the impact of our lifestyles; introspecting our patterns of consuming; researching about climate change; talking about carbon footprints and writing the ongoing history of societal shift into sustainable futures. The fact that we all are part of this moment of time is a matter of both pride and concern. Pride because it is our generation that is mapping the critical future and concern because our much thought out solutions are increasingly failing to stop the tide.

While this Green Sense weekly column has attempted to explore alternative building methods, we need to realise that at the end, it is not the building that consumes energy but people. A mere technical count of eco-friendly ideas used in a green building may not be a good enough solution, despite being a welcome step.

Care about wastage

A building, however eco-friendly it is, will fall flat if its users consume more energy than what the design has saved. This could be simply illustrated by the possible contradiction between the house and people. Imagine a home with mud blocks, stone pillar and filler roof, hence eco-friendly. However, if the family that lives there leads a lavish life buying, using and throwing, the whole idea gets defeated.

If people do not care about reducing wastage, the society and market at large will not care about reducing production or consumption. The energy discussion needs to start from the end consumers — people.

Much has already been said about how the local wisdom is always more eco-friendly and how place-based solutions are better than global practices from abroad. Yet, the global is prevailing over the local, thanks to increased comforts, attractive aesthetics, innovative production, ease of operation, proven durability and such others.

Energy cost

The flip side of this argument could be seen in one example — the corporate game of production at cheap prices at one place followed by marketing at high prices elsewhere has led to enormous quantities of energy in every item we are buying.

While discussing the emerging new ideas, supposedly more efficient, we may not realise the cost at which the new ideas are made to reach every corner of the world and how it would exclude many people in the process.

However, being a part of our times, none of us can negate the trends around us. Instead, what we can do is to observe the trends, realise their negative impacts and attempt corrective measures.

Accordingly, Green Sense has been looking at a few architectural design ideas, material options and construction techniques that could reduce the harm we are causing to nature due to construction activities.

Though some of the design ideas may appear useful and appropriate, this column also intends to state that the real solution to energy crisis lies within us, the people.