Textiles have a second life in green ceramics

Photo Credit: University of Southern Wales

Australia is making its mark on effective recycling and design with the groundbreaking technology of green ceramics. Textiles, recycled glass, waste wood and plastics are all among the recycled content used to create a variety of building materials and furniture. Items like flooring, lighting fixtures, tables, trash bins, and even a kitchen backsplash have been reimagined with the objective that zero-waste goes to landfills.

Of course, green ceramics are not just utilitarian; it is also artistic. Textiles add depth and color to the ceramic creation. The mastermind behind green ceramics is the University of New South Wales (UNSW) professor, Dr. Veena Sahajwalla. Her name is recognizable to many who follow methods of waste recycling. She is a global pioneer in the sector. Dr. Sahajwalla is also the inventor of green steel. This was a game-changer in helping Australia significantly reduce its enormous quantity of discarded tires. In the production of green steel, tires are employed as a replacement for coal.

Expectations for green ceramics are high since it is such a transformative technology. Australia's Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment's National Waste Report 2020 disclosed stratospheric numbers concerning waste in the construction and demolition industry. There were nearly 27 million tons reported between 2018-2019. Planning a more effective waste management strategy is more important than ever as Australia and many other countries look to achieve sustainable development goals by the year 2030.

Sue Lloyd-Hurwitz, CEO and Managing Director of Mirvac, a property investment group in Australia, also saw the important role green ceramics could play in reducing the company's carbon footprint and overall waste management by 2030. In an article by Tech Xplore, she stated, "Just as important, we are demonstrating to the broader industry that there are viable commercial and sustainable alternatives that can lead to a more sustainable future, where we consider the whole life cycle of the resources and materials we use in housing and construction."

Although the industrial science behind green ceramics has been in the works for a few years, it officially debuted for commercial residential use in March of 2021. In 2019, a partnership began between the UNSW Centre of Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) and Mirvac. The collaboration led to an industry-first—an apartment made primarily with waste materials.

Glass and textiles are two of the most problematic waste streams. Traditionally, recycled glass would only be recycled back to glass, and similarly, textiles could only be recycled into another textile. However, in the production of green ceramics, both elements successfully combine to make an entirely new entity—engineered biocomposites

Microfactories are used in the production of green ceramics. These condensed sites produce high-performance materials and eliminate the burden of expensive machinery. They are a key component for accomplishing the goals of supporting a circular economy. Dr. Sahajwalla states," A whole new industrial future awaits us, where waste is a key resource and there is no product end-of-life because we keep transforming materials."

If demand dictates supply, green ceramics looks to be a promising technology for construction and urban and regional planners to consider as environmentally safe options. Australia has started to address its waste problems by incorporating green ceramics into community settings and forging commercial partnerships that will ultimately slow the build of waste materials and help the economy to renew itself.

See the list below for more information about companies using recycled textiles or creating biodegradable materials to manage waste volume.