Building with Scrap: Repurposing Waste into Affordable Housing

Building with Scrap: Repurposing Waste into Affordable Housing

Building with Scrap: Repurposing Waste into Affordable Housing


Affordable housing is a growing need around the world. With rising costs of construction and land, finding innovative ways to provide quality housing at lower costs is essential. One potential solution that is gaining interest is repurposing waste materials into building materials. Using scrap and recycled content to construct affordable housing has many benefits:

Benefits of Building with Scrap

  • Cost savings – Repurposing waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill reduces materials costs significantly. There are abundant sources of waste building materials at little to no cost.

  • Sustainability – Giving waste a second life in construction keeps materials out of landfills and reduces the need for new resource extraction. This supports circular economic principles.

  • Quality – Many waste items can be repurposed to create durable and high-performing building materials. When designed properly, repurposed materials can meet building code requirements.

  • Community – Sourcing waste materials locally and constructing housing provides jobs and skills training. Housing constructed from local waste fosters community pride.

Sources of Building Materials from Waste

There are many sources of waste that can be repurposed into affordable housing building materials:

  • Construction and demolition debris – Leftover wood, drywall, siding, flooring, bricks, and concrete can be reused or recycled into composite materials.

  • Industrial waste – Scrap metal, rubber, textiles, paper/cardboard, and plastic from factories can be incorporated.

  • Agricultural waste – Straw, hemp, coconut husks, and other agricultural byproducts make good insulation and composites.

  • Electronic waste – Glass and metals reclaimed from electronics can be recycled into housing materials.

  • Automobiles – Old vehicle bodies, tires, and parts are ideal for ‘upcycling’.

  • Plastic waste – Bottles, bags and packaging can be repurposed in various ways for construction.

Key Construction Techniques

Some common techniques for repurposing waste into housing include:

  • Adobe bricks – Mixing clay soil with straw and water to form bricks for wall building.

  • Concrete composite – Mixing recycled plastic or shredded tires into concrete as aggregate.

  • Straw bale construction – Stacked straw bales plastered over or inserted in framing.

  • Insulated panels – Sandwiching recycled paper, cardboard or textiles between wood panels.

  • Compressed earth blocks – Compressing subsoil with a manual or motorized press into bricks.

  • Recycled steel – Using melted down scrap metal to produce steel beams and corrugated roofing.

  • Glass block walls – Mortaring reclaimed glass bottles and windows into decorative walls.

Case Studies

There are already many inspiring examples of scrap being successfully repurposed for affordable housing globally:

  • In Guatemala, EcoBarrio constructs homes using plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic trash in place of conventional cinder blocks. This provides stability in earthquakes while diverting waste.

  • The House That Kevin Built in Texas uses reclaimed materials like road signs, license plates and pressed cotton for insulation. This provides housing for homeless populations.

  • The Resource Rowhouse in Baltimore features walls made from recycled denim and insulation made from recycled jeans. It serves as transitional housing for women leaving prison.

  • In Bogotá, Colombia the Give Me 5 program has built over 900 houses using over 5 million recycled plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic trash to build the walls.


Repurposing waste materials into housing construction has enormous potential for increasing access to affordable, sustainable housing globally. With innovative design and engineering, abundant sources of waste can be kept out of landfills and put to use in creating quality, dignified housing for those in need. Further research and demonstration projects can help drive wider adoption of these techniques worldwide.