From consumption to waste to new life. The heart of the circular economy is beating harder than ever.
This virtuous cycle – which centres on the reuse of discarded resources – is in the process of broadening its horizons.
So what’s the latest trend in the circular economy? To transform solid organic waste (SOW) into eco-chic design materials and green bricks for the construction projects of the future.
It is an ambitious dream – one that could soon become a reality in Milan.
Milan: circular economy ambassador
Milan is one of the cities being looked at as a testing ground for the new sustainable design and construction project.
Milan has already established itself as a shining example in terms of recycling and environmental sustainability. The city has worked with notable solid organic waste producers since 1995 and in 2012 introduced a strict recycling system applicable to all private residences.
Thanks to this model, Milan is now the world’s leading city with a population of over one million inhabitants when it comes to solid organic waste recycling, reaching a total of around 130,000 tonnes every single year.
This precious material has so far been used to produce compost and biogas.
The future, however, is more ambitious. Solid organic waste could soon be used to produce low-cost green material for use in construction or to create furniture combining sustainability with greater awareness.
The amount of solid organic waste and other waste produced by the areas around Milan has been analysed in order to gauge how much natural resources are available, identify potential action areas and get an idea of the kind of models that could be implemented. From this analysis of the local area, it has been shown that 77% of the space around Milan qualifies as green spaces, with 70% used for agricultural cultivation.
But what does agricultural cultivation have to do with solid organic waste? It’s simple: the study clearly showed that agriculture is the largest source of organic waste in Milan and that fruit, vegetables and cereals thrown away on harvest or that remain on the ground during the harvest have the potential to become a precious source of materials that can thus be recycled and used for new purposes, ultimately generating revenue.
From waste, to new life.
From rubbish, to value creation.
Milan is ready to welcome an innovative business model that creates sustainable value, reduces waste disposal costs and regenerates natural capital.
Why use solid organic waste for construction?
The decision to use solid organic waste in order to revolutionise the construction sector is no coincidence.
Given the sudden increase in the global population and the urban and architectural transformations currently gripping many cities, not least Milan, the urgency for change is greater in construction than in any other sector.
Construction hasn’t always been quick to adapt to the challenges thrown up by issues like sustainability and social responsibility – just look at the continued use of material with high environmental impacts and virtually no scope for reuse and the persistence of poorly effective processes.
So how do we turn this on its head? By turning corn into honeycomb panels, rice into bricks and organic urban waste into environmentally friendly panels.
A new circular business model: the need to create a local value chain
It is possible to reuse solid organic waste, reduce waste disposal costs and generate economic and environmental value.
To achieve this, we must plan a well-structured business model and create a local value chain that starts at waste and ends with construction, optimising each step along the way.
There are a large number of stakeholders involved in the project:
- Organisations that supply waste, such as consortiums and agricultural companies. On the most interesting organisations currently active is the Distretto Agricolo Milanese [Milanese Agricultural District], a consortium composed of over 30 companies operating in the agricultural sector. Distretto Agricolo Milanese aims to produce economic benefit and sustainable value by reusing solid organic waste in innovative ways. The consortium could serve as a mediator between producers and individual agricultural workers.
- Established SMEs and innovative start-ups capable of transforming solid organic waste into recycled materials ready for use.
- Designers, architects and construction companies such as Wood-Skin, an innovative Milanese design company specialising in the production of flexible panels made from composite materials. The panels are made from two layers of wood either side of a textile material in the centre. Wood-Skin makes it possible create complex shapes and three-dimensional coverings, resulting in high-impact designer objects. But the company has one big limitation: accessibility to these personalised creations is very low, due to the high cost of raw materials. However, this obstacle could be removed by using solid organic waste as a recycled material in construction, which would both generate value and ensure greater convenience.
Using solid organic waste has incredible advantages for the market and the community.
It promises to bring us value from every angle:
using solid organic waste as a construction material increases the commercial value of waste by up to six times in comparison with their traditional use as an energy source.
the launch of a business model based around reusing organic waste in the construction and design sectors could fuel a new industry, leading to the appearance of new entrepreneurial ventures all over the country.
it would increase the lifecycle of products, reducing the environmental impact of a booming yet ecologically cumbersome market and benefitting the community as a whole.
It’s a win-win…win solution!
For details and further info read the study “The Urban Bio-loop”