By Ngoni Shumba
Clay brick-kilns litter Mutare’s environs – these come with pits and gullies. There is high demand for soil bricks in the eastern border city’s urban sprawl.
But it is the environment – and agricultural activities that are bearing the brunt of this development.
Brick making is eating up fertile agricultural land and leading to severe soil erosion, and destruction of mixed vegetation cover as well as grazing lands.
Nancy Saungweme, a local construction mogul who has been developing land for social housing for almost three decades now has been watching with dismay.
Through her company – Aloe Enterprises, Saungweme is now proposing a new housing model that will not only save the environment but also clean-up dump-fills.
Using recycled waste to make bricks for sustainable housing!
“Land is a finite resource and we need to reach a point where we re-think the use of soil in housing particularly if there are new technologies that can help us preserve soil for more productive uses,” Saungweme said.
This however doesn’t mean houses built from recycled waste need to look like a pile of junk.
To make her point, she has built a model house in Dangamvura where she is selling housing stands.
The eco-friendly house has nothing that can betray its having been built from recycled waste. Neat and compact, it looks like any other house.
“This is an emerging trend internationally. We can cure our waste management problem and provide affordable housing to people if people can embrace novelty,” Saungweme said.
Standard Association of Zimbabwe certified, the house was built from recycled waste, Expanded Polystyrene Foam (EPS) granules which we call kaylites locally, plastics and cement as well as reinforcement steel in the floor and corners.
Although the two-bedroomed house was built in two weeks it could even have been completed in five days.
“It’s an eco-friendly house and can go a long way in solving our housing problem together in the same stroke with managing the mountains of rubbish we throw away,” she said.
Saungweme said her house’s frameworks made entirely of recycled waste plastic – which would take up to 300 years to decompose in the environment.
She said the hollow bricks are then bound together with a mixture of cement and EPS. EPS is difficult to recycle, it is made up of 95% air so it is uneconomical to even try.
EPS is not bio degradable over a long period of time which again is hundreds of years.
The house is wind proof and, having a good component of plastic and EPS, is naturally waterproof. The special mixture also makes is many times stronger than concrete.
The special construction model would place plastic domes in the foundation which would help in regulating temperatures.
“It insulates heat from either within or outside. It’s really cool inside,” Saungweme says.
The house is currently standing alone as the model has not had any takers from among her social housing initiative beneficiaries. Most people are opting for brick and mortar houses in line with local tradition.
“We feel that if people can change their perception and not think that soil and water are alfa and omega of a strong house then we can transform hundreds of tonnes of waste into bricks and provide our people with beautiful homes,” Saungweme said.
Ngoni Plastering the house takes less cement to plaster as the walls would be generally smooth. “It would however take less cement as the walls would be a lot smoother and kaylites granules would make the cement stick really well,” Samuel Mambondiani the company’s construction foreman said.
Saungweme said she would enter into a partnership with a European company that would bring the technology to recycle waste into bricks if there is demand for such a house.
“We have a European partner who is currently on standby to come if our people show any appetite for such eco-friendly homes.
“Please note that these are not weak houses. The combination of materials are stronger although lighter than concrete.
“We estimate the life of the houses to be even more than the brick and motor houses which we see cracking allover in no time.
“We believe there is tremendous potential for this new product particularly with the growing focus on carbon reduction, low energy affordable homes and sustainability,” she said.
Weighing the potential environmental benefits, the novel building technology could go a long way in helping the globe cool off.
Without proper landfills, rubbish dumps have been a menacing environmental nuisance. And they have been a big source of carbon dioxide emissions – a potent greenhouse gas that is given the most blame for the warming climate.
This technology would take plastic out of dumpsites, locks it up in cement and cut carbon dioxide emissions.
“This can be an exciting way to clear our dumpsites and solve our rubbish problems. It would also certainly cut down on the cost of refuse collection as we would create demand for all recyclable material,” Saungweme opines.
Local environmentalist Moses Chimedza said if people would embrace the innovative housing model urban centres would be generally clean.
“This will completely change how we define waste. It is exciting and if the houses can be certified as safe then we need to push for people to consider it,” Chimedza said.
Construction of houses has left indelible scars across the country due to brick molding. The problem has been worse around urban centres with brick making a major source of income for villagers albeit at a big price to the environment – and their food security.