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Many expats coming from very first world nations find that they deeply desire to live more simply, more slowly, and more connected to nature than they did in their technology-driven, frenzied, disconnected old life. They have grown tired of subdivision life living in a perfectly manicured, gated vinyl village, or perhaps in an urban glass and metal highrise. Expats making the move abroad should definitely explore the possibility of building with natural local materials such as adobe, straw bale, or cordwood to name just a few.
We love to tout sustainability in the consumer sector, but of the 60 billion pounds of plastic discarded annually, only 7 percent is recycled—meaning that billions of pounds end up in landfills. That said, recycling shouldn't be our only objective; the other Rs (reduce and reuse) should be our primary targets.
A new building material has the potential to divert large quantities of waste from landfills. UK company Affresol offers a truly novel building material called Thermo Poly Rock (TPR), which is made from select waste products. The resulting material is stronger than concrete, is waterproof, fire retardant, and can be used to build low-cost modular housing. Each house built with TPR panels will save an average of 18 tons of waste material from being disposed of in landfills. "Every country in the world has issues with waste and we now have an opportunity to turn waste into an enduring housing resource that is 100% recyclable." - Ian McPherson, Affresol
The next generation of solar panels will bear little resemblance to their predecessors, at least on the outside. Companies like SRS Energy, Kyocera and Suntech Power are working with building suppliers on alternatives to clunky solar panels that will satisfy the demands of picky property owners, creating products like solar roofing tiles that blend in with the traditional clay versions found on many Southern California homes. Aesthetics have long been a complaint of homeowners who were interested in switching to renewable power, but were unhappy with the looks of conventional solar panels. Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are solar installations that also serve as functional building materials including roofing, shading systems and window glazing. Today’s versions still stand out, but advancing technology like thin-film copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) could offer nearly invisible solar coverage.
These recycled plastic bottle bricks are more affordable and durable than traditional bricks Photo from flickr They’re transparent and translucent. They interlock together to form a honeycomb structure that’s extremely durable.