Making Paper Bricks in India

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Making Paper Bricks in India

At MAKE we have covered a type of paper brick before, but it was used simply as a fire starter. Professors Rahul Ralegaonkar and Sachin Mandavgane of the Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology in India (VNIT) have come up with a process to make paper bricks designed for creation instead of destruction.

It started when they visited a paper recycling plant in 2009. They learned that 15% of the material that went through the plant was piled up into an unsightly sludge and sent to a landfill. For those not familiar, this is a prime example of one of the perils in recycling as opposed to upcycling. Recycling results in materials being turned into products of a lower quality than their predecessors, while upcycling preserves the quality of the product through many generations. For more about this subject, I recommend the book Cradle to Cradle.
Raleganokar and Mandavgane decided to take some of that sludge back to their lab and play around with it along with students over the summer. What resulted was a brick made of 90% recycled paper mill waste (RPMW) and 10% cement. The slurry is mechanically mixed, pressed into molds, and left in the sun to dry.

The bricks have seen practical use so far in false ceilings and partition walls. They are also experimenting with a waterproofing coat for use in exterior walls. The materials used in their process are not just limited to RPMW. They have also successfully used cigarette butts, fly ash, textile effluent treatment plant (ETP) sludge, polystyrene foam, plastic fiber, straw, polystyrene fabric, cotton waste, dried sludge collected from an industrial wastewater treatment plant, rice husk ash, and granulated blast furnace slag. The bricks are half the cost of conventional ones, much lighter, and could be a boon to the Indian construction economy, which currently has a 30% deficit in brick supply.

14 thoughts on “Making Paper Bricks in India

  1. daniel says:

    Any chance there is a risk of ill health effects on the inhabitants of buildings made from these bricks due to chemicals used in the recycling process?

    1. Michael Colombo says:

      That’s a great question and I didn’t find anything about that. I’d note though that some things used in modern home construction are already toxic in their own right– like plywood, particle board, and carpet that off-gas volatile compounds from the adhesives used in their manufacture.

      1. william says:

        I’m glad these folks are finding alternatives for their byproducts, but this is just papercrete and is being used to build homes here in the states already. Nobody mentions any health issues but I would imagine it all depends on the kind of paper you use.

        1. Michael Colombo says:

          This is different than papercrete. A common mix for papercrete is 60 lbs of paper, 94 lbs of cement, and 65 lbs of sand. This amounts to the final product being 26% paper. The blocks in India are 90% paper.

  2. Making Paper Bricks in India | low says:

    […] Read the full article on MAKE […]

  3. ShortZirkIt says:

    Love it! I’d love to see more.

    Ever look at the fairly recent development of Rocket Mass Heaters (RMH)? They have seen 1/8th the wood consumption to heat the same dwelling. Many are made from scratch, but a company is welding them out of steel and in the process of UL approval (home insurance) =

    This site has plans and many great illustrations of why it works so efficiently;

    I live near the Canadian border and heating cost’s can get crazy, hence my excitement :)

  4. Tre Baker says:

    Are they flammable?

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In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens' educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

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