The waste of a farm is the treasure of a construction site
At first glance, most agricultural waste (or agro-waste) seem to have little redemptive value beyond the original processes; after all, what could materials like manure, leaf litter and crop residues be used for?
However, these materials help define an increasingly crucial facet of environmentalism: sustainable construction.
For decades, the construction industry has been notoriously damaging to the environment, both through its production of multiple pollutants and its physical encroachment on natural ecosystems. In addition, long-standing building materials such as concrete remain an industry standard despite their crippling environmental impact.
These factors, along with the depletion of the natural resources used to create these materials, have created a real environmental crisis within one of our core industries.
This is where agro-waste comes in. Once neglected as disposable, this waste has revealed its unlikely potential as alternative building materials, and its implementation is already being explored on a global scale.
Innovate in the industry
The use of agro-waste in construction is stimulating a long-stagnant industry towards a greener future – and its broad implications are a direct by-product of the varied and molded forms of agro-waste. Although the application of sustainable materials is growing, construction remains a blank slate for sustainable experimentation. Each type of agro-waste creates a different set of subsequent environmental opportunities and benefits.
Recycling is not new but constitutes an important part of the green potential of agro-waste. A 2018 study noted that agro-waste is an environmentally friendly way to make “biofuels, enzymes, vitamins, antioxidants, animal feed, antibiotics and other chemicals”. This same study observed that many agro-industrial wastes are “untreated and underused, therefore… [they were] disposed of by burning, dumping or unplanned landfill ”, which contributes to climate change by increasing greenhouse gases.
In construction, an equally emitting sector, agro-waste serves as a two-pronged remedy: it should make the formation and implementation of building materials more organic and sustainable, while simultaneously using them to reduce the problems of construction. left at the dump.
A Study 2020 explored the application of agro-waste in the development of “brick and masonry elements, green concrete, insulation materials for buildings, reinforcement materials for buildings, particle board and plastics biobased ”. The study found that when incorporating agricultural wastes such as sugarcane bagasse, rice husks and peanut shells into construction processes, the use of wastes improved building materials. improving their durability properties, increasing their durability and ultimately reducing costs.
Agri-waste aims to make the formation and implementation of building materials more organic and sustainable, while simultaneously using them to reduce landfill problems.
Industry innovators are getting creative in how they harness these benefits. Indian architect Shriti Pandey recently used agro-waste to build two COVID-19 healthcare facilities in Bihar and Punjab. The facilities were built with thatch (or leftover harvested grain) and are fireproof, solar powered and ‘inherently thermally insulated’. Additionally, no water was used during the construction process, 60% of which took place off-site.
Pandey’s efforts reinforce the multifaceted benefits of agro-waste construction; the project was cost effective, non-intrusive to the environment, and stable in terms of physical durability and longevity – not to mention that it helped areas with increasing demand for hospital beds amid the pandemic. In this case, a positive change has been made for builders, environmentalists and community members.
Along with the advent of agro-waste recovery comes other key innovations in sustainable construction that can help agro-waste build momentum and create permanent change for the industry.
For example, advancements in construction-driven 3D printing offer an exciting new medium through which agricultural waste can take new forms. Seven houses containing agro-waste have already been 3D printed around the world, each sporting a different architecture. The houses, which range from domed to cylindrical, were built from bioplastics, earth, straw and rice husks.
However, the wider implementation of these processes will depend on their international acceptance, which may take time to establish.
“It is essential to note that there will not be enough confidence in the sustainability of construction products made from agricultural waste until a legislative instrument supports and promotes it,” wrote Richa Singh. Down to earth. “The construction industry needs to be educated to improve the application of these products. There has to be a mission-driven approach to building the market for green building products.
Fortunately, despite the inevitable truth in Singh’s assessment, preventative innovations like that of Shriti Pandey represent an underlying desire to make agro-waste a new standard in construction. Although it may be years before broader systemic change, the sustainable fate of the industry is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.