Based on waste: 5 new sustainable building materials

Karl Fendelander | Improvement Center Columnist | September 6, 2013

Sustainable building materials are all the rage lately -- and for good reason. The basic idea behind anything sustainable is that we use it at a rate that's slower than the rate it's reproduced, replenished or replaced.

Bamboo is a great example. It grows quickly, and products made with it -- from flooring to cutting boards -- last for years and years. By the time a bamboo floor needs to be replaced, more than enough bamboo to complete the job can be grown. Stone, on the other hand, is a green building material that isn't particularly sustainable -- it takes hundreds of millions of years worth of geological activity to make more of it.

A handful of innovative folks have been on a quest to create and source more sustainable building materials. It's no surprise their search has confirmed that humans produce an awful lot of waste. So, in addition to sustainability, the new materials and products they've developed are based on waste.

Waste not, want not: 5 sustainable building materials

These innovative products aren't just sustainable, they're responsible for diverting millions of tons of landfill waste.

  • Filterpave: In large paved areas, diverting water is a big issue. After all, you don't really want the parking lot -- or worse, the highway -- to turn into a lake every time it rains. This is where Filterpave comes in. The material allows water to trickle through, while still being as stable as a standard paved surface. This is already a great, green construction material because of what it does, but what's even better is that it's made from 96 percent ground glass and other recycled materials. It comes in variety of vivid colors and, despite being glass, won't be hard on your tires, bare feet or wallet.
  • Vireo: Used tires are nasty. Just in 2003, 290 million used tires were generated in the U.S. alone. Tackling this problem while solving a few others, a Canadian company called Bramal created Vireo. The product is 50 percent recycled tires and has a huge variety of uses. Vireo can coat roofs to improve insulation, protect the roof itself and help with water shedding. It can also be used to coat and protect metals, adding a nice rubbery bumper at the same time. The company is even looking at using the material for outdoor walkways that are easier on the body than traditional paved surfaces.
  • EnGuard: Made from recycled plastic bottles, this insulation outperforms and outlasts its fiberglass counterparts. The product is 50 percent recycled materials -- a number they're working on pushing up even further -- and has the dramatic benefit of being a whole lot less harmful to people than fiberglass insulation. EnGuard uses recycled fibers that are thermally bonded together, eliminating the need for chemical bonding agents. This means no formaldehyde or other nasty miasmas and nothing to break down over time -- this insulation can last a lifetime.
  • Struxure: Through the miracles of science, a company called Axion has produced a sustainable building material that is made from 100 percent recycled material, while lasting longer, performing better and being softer on the environment than conventional materials. They boast that the durable Struxure building materials "won't rust, splinter, crumble, rot, absorb moisture or leach toxic chemicals into the environment." The miraculous material is used for loads of different things -- even building bridges in New York.
  • Enviroboards: Waste comes from things that we don't usually think about. In the case of Enviroboards, the waste used for production comes from straw and grass -- or as they call it "agricultural waste fiber" -- that really isn't good for anything. The wasteful culprits include rice straw, wheat straw, elephant grass and sugar cane, among others. On top of being structurally astounding, these boards are inexpensive to the tune of reducing construction costs by a full 50 percent.
There are many other ways to reuse and recycle when it comes to building materials. Reclaimed wood, brick and other pieces of old homes are being snatched up and used in remodeling projects and new homes for their looks and the years of functionality they still have left. If you're planning a project, talk to a contractor about what kind of recycled materials you might employ, and free up a little more room in your local landfill -- your planet thanks you.
About the Author

Karl Fendelander cut his teeth on web writing in the late nineties and has been plugged in to the newest technology and tuned in to the latest trends ever since. With an eye for design and an ear for language, Karl has created content and managed digital media for startups and established companies alike. When he unplugs, Karl can be found biking about town and hiking and climbing throughout the West.