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12/2/2015

BBCFutureTurningwasteintobuildingblocksofthefuturecity

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Pollution

Turning waste into building blocks of the


future city
Modern cities create vast quantities of waste. But rather than causing
a crisis, could these overflowing landfills help create urban landscapes
of the future? In the third of Building Tomorrows expert viewpoints,
urban designer Mitchell Joachim looks at ways our trash can be
turned into treasure.
ByMitchellJoachim
28May2013

Citieswereinventedforamultitudeofpurposes.Firstwastheneedforthe
concentrationofvitalresourcesinagivenregionthencametheirroleasplacesfor
worship,trade,governmentalcontrolandmilitarydefence.Butinourmodernage,
urbanspaceswereconceivedandshapedprimarilyaroundmassmarket
industrialisation.
Todaytheconsequencesofthepostindustrialcityhavehadanincredibleimpacton
theenvironment.Itiswidelyacceptedcitiesimpingeonareaswellbeyondtheir
borders.Wastestreamsincitiesaretheleadingfactorinpollutionoftheareasoutside
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theirgeopoliticalboundaries.
Urbanwastemustbereconfiguredourtimehasrunout.Reportsofgarbage
problemsfromNaplesinItalytoBeijinginChinaunderscorethesizeofthe
problem.Landfillsarefilledandincineratorshavethepotentialtoreleasepoisons
suchasdioxin.Wemusthaveanewstrategytowardsrefuseinurbanplaces,one
thatincludesthedesignofconsumablesinthefirstplace.Manyconceptsexist
already,butwhataresomeofthemostradicalsolutionstoourwastefulways?
Recently,theplanetreached400partspermillionofcarbonintheatmospherefor
thefirsttimesincemodernhumansevolved.Reversingsuchwastefulhabitswill
requiretremendouseffort,asminusculechangeswillnotalterthiscourse.Humanity
hasreacheditspeakofonewayconsumption.
Nowisthetimetodesignwastetoregenerateourcities.Whatarethepossibilitiesfor
urbanenvironmentsafterouragedinfrastructureisrecalibrated?Howmightbigger
citiesandwastemix?Onekeyideaisthatwasteisnotrecycledthrough
infrastructuralmechanismsbutinsteadupcycledinperpetuity.
Allovertheglobemunicipalwasteisontherise.InChina,theamountofmunicipal
solidwasteproducedisrisingby6%peryear.Ithaskeptpacewiththerapid
urbanizationinChina.ManypartsofSouthAmericaarealsorapidlyurbanisingand
theirwastehasgrownwithit.Braziliancitieshavehadasteady10%increasein
wasteheadedforlandfills.Indiawillseea500%increaseinewastematerialsfrom
cellphones,TVs,refrigeratorsdestinedforurbanlandfills.Alotofitisimportedfrom
developedcountries.SouthAfricaandChinawillalsohavetodealwith400%more
garbagefromforeignewaste.
Mankindwillhavetosolveourwasteproblemincities.Ifwedont,itllbetheendof
us.Thereareanumberofpossiblesolutions,andsomeofthemarealreadybeing
adopted.
Supersizedwaste
Thefirstcrediblestepistoreducetrashbyconsideringthelifecycleofobjectswe
make.Thingsthataredesignedforobsolescenceshouldbeoutlawed.Additionally,
productsmustbemanufacturedwiththeintenttoreuse,disassemble,takebackor
upcycle.Forinstance,insteadoftossingoutbottleswecouldadaptthemforuseas
planters,lightingfixtures,buildingwallelements.

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Othercitieshavehighlyorganisedsystemstosolvetheseproblems.InZurich,thecity
requiresindividualspayhandsomelyforwastethatissimplydiscarded,while
thoroughrecyclingisencouragedbyfreecitywidecollectionservices.Thereforewell
over90%ofmunicipalwasteinsideZurichisrecycledandsenttoincineratorsto
produceenergy.Burningwasteisnottheanswerbutitdoeshaveopportunitiesin
themidterm.Itrequiressubstantialneedforenforceableregulations,comprehensive
industrycontrols,economicfeasibilityplans,andthelatestultraexpensivetechnology
suchasplasmagasificationplants.
InsimilarlydevelopedcitiesMalmo,Tokyo,orCopenhagenitmakessensetouse
awastetoenergyprocesses.Theseprevailingurbanpopulationsarestableand
easilytaxedtosupportsuchasystemnotsoeasyindevelopingcitiessuchas
LagosorJakarta.
Outreachprogramsthatinvitethepublictoobservecivicwastesystemsasa
spectacleareinstrumentalinspreadingawareness.TheHangzhouEnvironmental
GroupinChinahasover10,000touristsayearvisitingitslandfillfacility.Freshkills
landfillinNewYorkwillbetransformedintothelargestpublicparkinover100years
thatwillshowcaseengineerednaturefromwaste.Cuba,anislandnationthathas
beencutofffromtradeimports,hasconservedalmosteverythingthroughcarful
recyclingofpartsfrom1950scarstoeyeglasses,nothingiswasted.
LookathowsuchasystemmightaffecttheUS.Americaistheleadcreatorofwaste
ontheearth,makingapproximately30%oftheworld'strashandtossingoutaround
threequartersofatonperUScitizenperyear.Itseemsvaluehasdevolvedinto
rampantwasteproduction:megaproductsscaledforsupersizedfranchisebrands,
bigboxretail,XXLjumboparaphernaliaandsoon.TheUSmindsetistypifyinga
throwawayconsumerculture.Wheredoesitallendup?HeatherRogerssaidinher
investigativebookGoneTomorrowthatthrowingthingsawayisunsustainable.The
firststepwemusttakeisreductionmeaningamassivediscontinuationofobjects
designedforobsolescence.Thenweneedaradicalreuseplan.Ourwastecrisisis
immense.Whatisourcalltoaction?
NewYorkCityiscurrentlydisposingofnearly33,000tonsofwasteper
day.Previously,mostofthisdiscardedmaterialendedupinFreshKillsonStaten
Island,beforeoperationswereblocked.Manhattansinhabitantsdiscardenough
paperproductstofilltheEmpireStateBuildingeverytwoweeks.TerreformONEs
RapidRe(f)useandHomewayprojectsstrivetocapture,reduceandredesignNew
Yorksrefuseinfrastructure.Theinitiativeimaginesanextendedcityreconstituted
fromitsownjunkedmaterials.Theconceptremakesthecitybyusingallthetrash
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entombedintheFreshKillslandfill.Theoretically,themethodshouldproduce,at
minimum,sevennewManhattanIslands.NewYorkCityspremierlandfillwasstarted
bythedivisiveurbanplannerRobertMosesanddrivenbyapatheticworkersand
machines.Now,guidedbyaprudentcommunitywithsmartequipment,wemust
reshapeit.
Smarttrash
Howcouldthiswork?Outsizedautomated3Dprinterscouldbemodifiedtorapidly
processtrashandtocompletethetaskwithindecades.Thesepotentialautomatons
wouldbeentirelybasedonexistingtechniquescommonlyusedinindustrialwaste
compactiondevices.Toaccomplishthisjob,nothingdrasticallynewneedstobe
invented.Mosttechnologiesareintendedtobeofftheshelf.Insteadofmachinesthat
crushobjectsintocubes,compactiondevicescouldbenefitfromadjustablejawsthat
wouldcraftsimpleshapesintosmartpuzzleblocksforassembly.Theblocksof
wastematerialcouldbepredetermined,usingcomputationalgeometries,inordertofit
domes,archways,lattices,windows,orwhateverpatternswouldbeneeded.Different
materialscouldservespecifiedpurposes:transparentplasticforfenestration,organic
compoundsfortemporarydecomposablescaffolds,metalsforprimarystructuresand
soon.Eventually,thefuturecitywouldmakenodistinctionbetweenwasteand
supply.
Ifyouthinkthissoundsfamiliar,itis.Thinkbacktothe2008PixaranimationWALL
E.AtapproximatelythesametimethatRapidR(e)fusewasinitiated,themoviewas
announced.WALLEsnameisanacronym:WasteAllocationLoadLifterEarth
Class.Leftbehindbymankind,hetoilswithtrillionsoftonsofnonrecycledinnercity
trash.Hetirelesslyconfiguresmountainsofdiscardedmaterial.Whypyramidsof
trash?WALLEsdailyperpetualfeatsseemalmostfutile.Thefilmomitsexactlywhy
heisprogrammedtopilerefuseandthereistheshortcoming.
Theresadeepermotivationforstackingrefuse.Whatiftherubbishwasrefabricated
tobecomerealurbanspacesorbuildings?Ifitisplausibletoadaptcurrent
machinery,howmuchmaterialisavailable?Atfirstsight,anysanitarylandfillmaybe
viewedasanamplesupplyofbuildingmaterials.Heavyindustrialtechnologiescrush
carsortoautomaticallysortoutgarbagearereadilyavailable.3Dprintinghas
exhaustingcapabilitiesifadjustedtolargerscales.ThisiswhereTerreformONEscity
began.
Theenvisionedcitywouldbederivedfromtrashnotordinarytrash,butsmartrefuse.
Asignificantfactorofthecitycomposedfromsmartrefuseisposttuningandwe
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wouldhavetoadaptthisrawmaterialforuse.Integrationintothecitytexturewouldbe
alearningprocess.Intime,theresponseswouldeventuallybecomemoreattunedto
theneedsoftheurbandweller.Thisnewcitymaybebuiltfromtrash,butitwillalso
beconnectedviacomputers.Thebuildingsblockswilllearn.
Cities,unlikemachines,aresimilartoacomplexecology.Ecologyiscapableof
achievingacontinuousharmoniousstate,orevenfurther,apositiveintensification.If
ecologicalmodelsareproductivelyeverlasting,urbanmodelscanlogicallyfollow.
FormoreinourBuildingTomorrowseries,clickhere.Ifyouwouldliketocomment
onthisstoryoranythingelseyouhaveseenonFuture,headovertoourFacebook
pageormessageusonTwitter.

Fit to burst
Theeffectsofadisposableconsumerculturehavecreatedalandfilltimebombacrossthe
world.Threebillionextrapeoplewilladdfurtherstrain.(Copyright:AFP/GettyImages)

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Flexible metals
Currently,wastemetalsarecrushedintocubes,butinthefuturetheycouldbecutinto
shapeswhichcouldthenbeusedtobuildstructures.(Copyright:SciencePhotoLibrary)

Protecting the city


OneofTerreformONEsplansistousepartsofderelictshipstocreateakindofbufferreefto
helpprotectcitiesfromtheeffectofstorms.(Copyright:TerreformONE)

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Re-use revolution
InCuba,tradeembargoeshavecreatedamakedoandmendcultureanattitudetherest
oftheworldwillhavetoadoptinthefuture.(Copyright:EmmanuelHuybrechts/Flickr)

Bubble of opportunity
Methanecreatedbyrottingrubbishcouldbeusedtopowersmallpowerstationscreating
anotherenduseoutofourcitywaste.(Copyright:SciencePhotoLibrary)

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Electronic pollution
TheWestexportssomeofitswasteintheformofjunkedelectronicequipment,whichaddsto
landfillissuesindevelopingcountries.(Copyright:SciencePhotoLibrary)

Ever-growing mountain
PaperwillhavetoberecycledmoretoeasestrainonlandfillsNewYorkthrowsoutenough
tofilltheEmpireStateBuildingeverytwoweeks.(Copyright:SciencePhotoLibrary)

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