South African projects like Qala Phelang Tala and Use-it are pioneering new methods of upcycling that save money and the planet

It’s estimated that in 2009/2010 South Africa spent R9.43 Billion on solid waste management, a staggering amount when you consider the many developmental needs facing our society. For instance, in a country that has a housing deficit of 2.5 million homes, and where 7.5 million South Africans lack access to adequate housing, the same subsidy amount (according to the quantum for that period) could have built 131,000 low-income houses.

Clearly, if South Africa is able to reduce the demand on the landfills, this would free a substantial amount of money to spend on these more pressing social needs. But what if the two could work together – housing and waste management – to be even more efficient?

This was the thinking behind Qala Phelang Tala in the Free State. The project uses an innovative process to create rammed earth buildings, where scrap tyres are stacked on top of one another and filled with soil, and then compacted using a hammer. The outside shell of the tyres is then packed with ‘cob’ (soil, water and manure) and then plastered to finish the wall. To add light to the building, two glass bottles are joined and then incorporated into the structure.

Another project pioneering the use of recycled materials for construction is Use-It, a non-profit company based in eThekwini. Use-It is primarily focused on maximizing waste from landfill and creating jobs by using building rubble to create compressed earth blocks. These blocks, while similar to conventional building materials in appearance, are 16% cheaper than hollow concrete blocks and 45% cheaper than clay brick, while offering superior thermal performance, says Chris Whyte, Use-It’s owner. In 2013/2014 this project created 84 direct jobs, and 68 indirect jobs, and has saved eThekwini the equivalent of R3,650,800 through recycling of waste that would otherwise have been stored in a landfill.

Have a look at Qala Phelang Tala here.