Ceramic materials made from waste glass and textiles have been used in an apartment which heralds a breakthrough in environmentally friendly residential construction.

At a ceremony attended by NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean, urban property and construction group Mirvac unveiled its Pavilions apartment at Sydney Olympic Park.

The apartment uses ‘green ceramics’ made from waste glass and textiles in its flooring, wall tiles, kitchen, lighting features and furniture and artwork.

The products were made using a technology known as MICROfactorie™, which was created by the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at the University of New South Wales.

The technology takes problematic waste materials and ‘reforms’ them into entirely new ‘green ceramics’ and other panels and products for the built environment through a combination of heat and compression.

Previously applied in materials used in community and industrial facilities, the potential application of green ceramics in residential settings was highlighted in a display apartment at Marrick & Co – the first One Planet Living residential community in NSW – where it was used for furniture and artworks.

Its application at the Pavilions apartment as part of a collaboration between Mirvac and SMaRT has now extended this concept to cover materials used within the apartment’s construction itself.

As well as artworks and furniture, the ceramics in the Pavilions apartment have been applied to flooring, kitchen splashback and island front, shelving, feature walls and light fittings.

In the case of the Pavilions apartment, the tiles have been made from a combination of yellow bin glass and textiles.

These materials have traditionally been difficult to recycle on account of issues such as contamination and material complexity.

Whilst Mirvac and SMaRT acknowledge that energy is used within the recycling process, they say that this is more than offset by savings from the avoidance of needing to manufacture new materials along with savings in transporting new, mass produced materials (as noted below, the products are designed to be sourced and manufactured locally).

A Mirvac design original, the back-lit feature wall in the Pavilions apartment has been manufactured using glass and juts bags used for coffee beans to create the sophisticated off-white ‘green ceramic’ tiles.

For Mirvac, use of green ceramics forms part of its strategy to achieve net positive carbon status by 2030.

In addition to using recycled materials, the company’s plan involves maximising energy efficiency and developing all-electric buildings powered by renewable energy.

For SMaRT, meanwhile, the collaboration represents part of its ongoing effort to research and develop environmentally sustainable materials and manufacturing processes.

Aside from the green ceramics, the Centre has also partnered with OneSteel (now Infrabuild) to develop a process to make environmentally friendly steel which contains alloys made of end-of-life rubber tyres and waste plastic as an alternative to coking coal.

The black and grey terrazzo look of the green ceramic tiles used in the kitchen and living area is derived from both the glass and the black fabric used in manufacture.

Speaking at the launch, Kean said the partnership could form a blueprint for sustainable development.

“Diverting the large volumes of waste generated on construction sites from landfill to create quality finishes and furniture is not only good for our environment but good for the economy,” Kean said.

Mirvac CEO & Managing Director, Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz said the development sector needs to find sustainable ways in which to build.

Worldwide, she says 92 billion tonnes of materials are extracted from the earth each year whilst 11 billion tonnes of waste are sent to landfill – with buildings accounting for around half of all materials which are extracted.

In Australia, she says the building industry accounts for around 60 percent of waste generated.

Under the collaboration, SMaRT provided the scientific and engineering expertise whilst Mirvac contributed its expertise in design, development, construction and marketing.

Once developed, the product was subject to months of testing to ensure it met National Construction Code requirements for slip and fire resistance and acoustics along with Mirvac’s own expectations for durability to withstand household wear and kitchen spills.

The collaboration will now investigate opportunities to establish a local factory to enable the material to be sourced and manufactured locally.

This is important as the MICROfactorieTM technologies are designed to operate locally and to collect waste and undergo manufacturing at source rather than require large-scale production and transportation.

Public and industry events will also be held over coming months to build industry awareness of the technology and draw attention to the need to reduce waste in construction.

The green and white kitchen splashback reimagines the variability of marble, the striations telling the story of its origin.

Aside from the environmental properties associated with the new ceramics, an intriguing feature of the technology revolves around the ability to combine two different materials to create an entirely new product which draws on the different advantages of both inputs.

In this case of the green ceramics, the product capitalises both on the strength of the glass along with the colour and aesthetic of the tiles. The result is a terrazzo appearance which can be varied to a degree in such a way that the final material has its own grain or character – much like a piece of timber or natural stone.

This differs from other situations whereby glass is recycled to create more glass or PET plastics are recycled to create more plastics.