Modern cities create vast quantities of trash every day, and Australia is one of the highest waste producers in the world, generating over 18 million tonnes of waste per year.

According to a study presented by urban designer Mitchell Joachim, however, rather than causing a crisis, these huge amounts of trash can be turned into building blocks for the future cities.

Joachim is an American urban designer acknowledged as an innovator in ecological design, architecture, and urban design, as well as a researcher and architectural educator. In recent years, he has focussed on adapting the principles of physical and social ecology to architecture, city design, transport and environmental planning.

His recent study proposed that waste should no longer be recycled through infrastructural mechanisms but instead be upcycled in perpetuity.

“Now is the time to design waste to regenerate our cities,” he said. “Eventually, the future city would make no distinction between waste and supply,” he said.

The first step is to reduce trash by considering the life cycle of every new object that it is produced. Cities should adopt laws that help to create a framework where disposable, non-recyclable products are frowned upon and new ones are manufactured with the intent to be reused, disassembled or upcycled.

It has already been demonstrated that trash and several recycled materials , such as plastic bottles, can be adapted and used as building wall elements.

Trash blocks

Many developed cities are organising systems to solve waste problems. In Zurich, for example, the government requires citizens to pay large sums for waste that is simply discarded, while recycling is encouraged by free city-wide collection services. As a result, over 90 per cent of waste inside Zurich is recycled and sent to incinerators to produce energy.

Though burning waste is not a perfect solution, it does present a solution so long as it is backed with enforceable regulations, comprehensive industry controls, economic feasibility plans and the latest technology.

However, these waste-to-energy processes can only be applied in developed cities such as Tokyo or Copenhagen, where taxation leaves citizens on the hook for the cost. The solution would be hard-pressed to gain traction in developing cities and emerging countries.

Trash blocks

Trash blocks

Joachim’s proposed solution consists of using automated 3D printers and existing technology to create building blocks and construction elements from waste.

“These potential automatons would be entirely based on existing techniques commonly used in industrial waste compaction devices,” he said.

“To accomplish this job, nothing drastically new needs to be invented. Most technologies are intended to be off-the-shelf. Instead of machines that crush objects into cubes, compaction devices could benefit from adjustable jaws that would craft simple shapes into smart ‘puzzle blocks’ for assembly.”

Building blocks of waste material can be shaped to fit a variety of needs, including domes, archways, lattices or windows. Different materials can be used to suit different purposes, such as transparent plastic for windows and metals for primary structures.

3d printed building

3d printed building

“Cities, unlike machines, are similar to a complex ecology,” Joachim said. “Ecology is capable of achieving a continuous harmonious state, or even further, a positive intensification. If ecological models are productively everlasting, urban models can logically follow.”