Amsterdam-based startup StoneCycling, is undertaking the daunting, yet ambitious task of up-cycling construction and architectural waste from demolitions into usable and attractive building materials.
Founded in 2013 by Tom van Soest and his childhood friend Ward Massa, StoneCycling is the result of curiosity and a desire to add value. Van Soest discovered through research that in the Netherlands, the construction industry generates 65% of the country’s waste—the largest proportion of the entire stream. He began tracking where that waste went, and came to find that some of it was crushed and turned into material for paving roads or shipped overseas for disposal. That was the light bulb moment that spurred the question, “Why not turn demolished buildings into new buildings?”
“The alternative [for handling construction waste], compared to our solution, is down cycling, where the value goes down per ton. What we try to do is create products that represent more value than the current combined price of those waste streams.”
In a small makeshift lab, experimentation began with varying waste streams including ceramics, clay and glass out which a stable material was formed. The two friends decided that bricks—the most basic building block—would be the easiest product to develop from this material and today, StoneCycling makes close to 20 different types of bricks, which range from your everyday solid red variety to custom bricks and more ornamental versions, like terrazzo-esque Nougat. With this versatile brick product (which can be used as cladding, interior finishes, surfaces, and in products) StoneCycling were able to jump-start the company.
“If we’re making a material, we should make a product since that’s easier to sell, If it’s too futuristic, no one in the building industry will work with it. The building industry doesn’t like risk. Our materials are innovative, but not so alien that people don’t want to work with it.”
Massa and van Soest have been building their business the old-fashioned way through word of mouth, exhibiting at design fairs, and setting up meetings with architecture firms eager to experiment with new techniques. One of such architect’s would be Architectuur Maken who wanted to build a structure that would blend in with the neighborhood fabric of their site and opted for Stone Cycling’s waste-based bricks.
Architectuur Maken’s Rotterdam house is the first completed building to use StoneCyling’s products and is a proof of concept of sorts that shows other potential builders how the material works in the real world.
“The advantage of this approach is this idea of building with waste is new, People are skeptical about this. What we need are architects, clients, and developers that want to make a statement and those who have a budget and high ambition. If we get our products in there, it helps to spread the message and hopefully it will trickle down the pyramid and more people will use it.”
Though the StoneCycling bricks are promising, they still have some ways to go in convincing the mainstream developers to incorporate this new material into their projects. To this end they’ve launched a new arm of their business: an interiors segment that offers dining tables, occasional tables, pendant lights, and floor lamps all made from waste-based materials. The line showcases how construction waste can be transformed into elegant objects.
“What we’re aiming with the interior collection is if someone eats dinner at a waste table or turns on a lamp made from waste, the concept of being surrounded by waste becomes cool or acceptable. If we start seeing waste as valuable, it opens up a range of possibilities.”
With this new, consumer-focused product line and its existing trade-oriented building materials business, Massa and van Soest are aiming to create a competitive market around materials destined for landfill—and incentivizing more sustainable design in the process.
To close out, here’s a video interview with the founders from a year ago courtesy kickstartVenlo (Its in Dutch by the way.)