The Circular Economy model is steadily gaining momentum around the globe, doing away with a linear and wasteful mindset.
Industry and governments are starting to see the economic benefits of being Circular and the potential environmental benefits are staggering. There is no arguing that being Circular is no longer an option, as it is required to sustain and grow economic activity given our limited resources.
During the 90s, I discovered the work of architect Michael Reynolds. He created and developed a concept of a building that uses waste materials for its construction, is able to store and re-use its water supply, generates its own electricity, and is passively cooled and heated while producing food for its occupants. His invention is called an Earthship.
The concept addresses six areas that are true for the Circular and bio-economy model and fits in with the United Nations’ development goals, namely food, energy, clean water, shelter, waste management and sewage treatment. The thing is Michael Reynolds built his first Earthship in 1979.
The journey of Michael Reynolds is not unlike that of Elon Musk with Tesla.
He is another visionary who has had to endure public scrutiny, little industry support and negativity from the media.
Going against the grain of popular beliefs is no easy feat.
The Earthship solution is available for anyone to get involved with and use anywhere on the globe.
When buildings that can be used as homes, offices, schools and public spaces are constructed with waste tyres, glass bottles, cans and other waste streams, the Circular community needs to jump in and get involved. William Mcdonough and Michael Braungart published their book called Cradle to Cradle, Remaking the way we make things in 2002. Their concepts have formed the basis of work towards the Circular Economy and bio-economy models. The modern take is to design products so their materials are easily reintroduced into a value stream, thereby creating an ecosystem that requires fewer virgin resources.
The starting point is rubbish. There seems to be a misconception about recycling. After your bin full of recycled waste is uploaded by a dump truck, the general feeling is that you have done your bit and the recycled waste will now be 100% recycled. Nothing could be further from the truth. Recycled waste from Canada ends up on a heap in Malaysia — there is no connection between your efforts and what actually happens to your recycled waste in just about all countries around the globe.
It is therefore plausible to start diverting certain waste streams that will end up not being recycled from landfill for use in the construction industry where they can be used and continue to add value by becoming building materials. This will have a knock on effect as fewer other virgin building materials will be needed for Earthship structures.
The costs associated with an Earthship depend on its design and materials. It’s currently similarly priced per square meter as a normal house, however this price includes its own water, electricity and climate systems. The more applicable waste streams are used, the more the potential saving can be, especially on finishing touches.
The potential use for these structures goes further, in that it is a perfect solution for passive greenhouses, where temperature and humidity can be controlled with electricity to ensure year-long food production. Other uses are schools, clinics, community centres and disaster relief models for areas affected by natural disasters.
Michael Reynolds started something 40 years ago that is even more relevant today than when he first put pen to paper. He has designed and built structures all over the globe which are good for humans and nature in many ways. The Cradle to Cradle model also emphasizes design as a key component to doing good towards humans, nature and a sustainable economy.
These are two similar thought processes, however in the context of developing countries with the issues we have to solve today, there is no better way to start a practical Circular Economy model than with the Earthship concept. Add an electric vehicle to the mix and you are living in the future right here in Africa.
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