6 of the Most Innovative Recycled Building Materials


It’s official; ‘rubbish’ has been redefined. Landfill fodder is no longer unsightly regrettable junk and has now evolved to become something we can utilize in even the most personal ways. If you follow trends in the built environment, or simply just enjoy a little insight into the type of extreme eco-homes shown on popular programs, then a few of the more elaborate materials detailed here might be familiar to you.

But amidst the familiar we’ve tried to document the unusual and multi-beneficial to inspire even the most ‘normal of homes’. Sheep’s wool wall insulation anyone?

Neptune Balls

You may also have heard these matted brown ‘fur-ball’ type creations called ‘sea balls’, and as nature pretty much does all of the work for us, this surplus seaweed product is about as eco-friendly as you can get!

These balls of seaweed fibers naturally occur on beaches and exhibit a range of features which make them perfect insulation materials without any human intervention at all. With limited salts and containing no proteins at all, Neptune balls are immune to rot and pose no risk to the human respiratory system. They may look like balls of elephant dung, but as organic building materials go, you can’t beat these mother-nature made wonders!

Feature ‘Bottle’ Walls

There are some absolutely spectacular global examples of glass bottle buildings, ranging from detailed colorful temples to stylish studios and eco-friendly homes. That doesn’t mean you have to create an artistic masterpiece to achieve the effect in your own home however, and the beauty of using glass bottles as a building material is that stunning results can be created from rather rough and ready construction!

If you’re looking to create a bottle effect wall then it’s recommended you consult someone with experience, it’s arguably a less precise task than laying bricks, but there are some tips and tricks that are useful to know if you really want to get the maximum benefit from your materials. You will initially need to create a robust foundation to support the wall, but in terms of layering the bottles you can apply a little more creativity.

As a guide it is recommended that the bottles are spaced by around 1 inch (or two fingers of separation) but you can also choose to bind bottles in order to create a small air passage between the gaps.

It is also possible to fill the bottles with dark materials or liquid in order to absorb radiation during the daylight hours and project it into the building, however, this should be certainly be carried out with expert approval as temperature fluctuations can compromise the strength of the glass.

Tire Walls

There is a great episode of the popular TV show Grand Designs in which the home owners recruit volunteers to build their house (a little controversial!) and spend a good portion of their time brutally compacting a ‘tire wall’. The wall essentially derives its strength from being compacted with earth i.e. ‘rammed earth tires’ as they can sometimes be called, and in the true eco-design spirit this is usually created using man power.

It’s hard work and formal regulations are lacking, but true eco-warriors are continuing to utilize tires both as an environmentally responsible ‘adventure’ and a beneficial construction material with intelligent insulation properties. To get the full benefit out of a tire constructed wall it is essential you consult an architectural firm with expertise in the field. If done well, the advantages can be rather impressive with current tire-wall home-owners using the system to intelligently heat their homes and protect piping from freezing.

Organic Insulation

Insulating your home with animal and plant derived materials can seem a little odd to serious Kingspan fans, but if you’re looking to add an unobtrusive eco-design design element to your home, then this is a great way to do your bit without resorting to composting toilets and unusual construction materials.

A variety of materials can be used, all with their own unique benefits:

1. Sheep’s wool – can absorb moisture without impacting on thermal efficiency, recyclable.

2. Flax insulation – treated for fire resistance

3. Hempcrete – renewable

4. Hemp insulation – renewable

5. Cork insulation – recyclable, avoid dust inhalation

Unfired Clay Bricks

Eco-friendly and with additional construction properties, unfired bricks are created using earth materials and are air-dried instead of fired like conventional bricks. This has the benefit of reducing the energy used in manufacturing and increases strength and decreases shrinkage. Again, another great way of going greener without turning your home into a full-blown eco-creation.

Reclaimed Tiles

Reclaimed materials have become increasingly popular in recent years, however in some instances the fact they’re ‘reclaimed’ doesn’t make them cheap! Some salvage sites can charge several hundred pounds for a period faucet and of course, you won’t be covered by a generous guarantee in the same way a B&Q creation would be!

Reclaimed tiles are pretty much what they say on the tin however and they can be purchased relatively cheaply from sites such as salvo.co.uk. The benefit of reclaimed tiles is obviously the recyclable aspect but from a design perspective you can get hold of some really ornate and ‘so-retro-it’s cool’ designs. Great for kitchens, bathrooms and flooring, reclaimed tiles are a great way to add real charm and personality to a property.

We hope that has inspired both big and modest eco budgets alike and demonstrated how every home has the potential to utilize a little green construction. Remember, the most time and skill intensive eco material installation should be carried out by experts – as a new field the more unusual creations aren’t something that should be used purely as a free-weekend project!

Article by Victoria Browne, a blogger and freelance writer with a passion for architecture and eco-design. Victoria is writing on behalf of REC Ltd Resource and Environmental Consultants, specialists in air quality assessments and stack emissions testing.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.


  1. PlanetReuse is a great source of reclaimed and reused materials for home renovation and commercial projects. Check us out if you are in the market for materials and/or have materials to sell or donate!

    Head over to planetreuse dot com for more information and to see what we have available.


    Sarah Rendo