A Binman rides a tricycle to store the garbage which he has purchased from family homes on his rounds. He hangs around in his neighbourhood in a Chinese city moving slowly. He yells, to let everyone know he is there, your neighbour opens their window and yells back: “come on!”.

When I was a child everyone stored recyclable garbage at home, paper and plastic bottles, to sell to the local Binman. One bottle for one cent, bundles of paper by kilo. Glass beer bottles had no value, only plastic. After our transaction he would take the trash to a waste centre, and on-sell it to them. It was said the Binman made good money.

Each neighbourhood has a Binman, you don’t find a second binman in the same neighbourhood.

I’ve been thinking about this more and more recently. I hear many workers are losing jobs and farmers are losing their land. In this “underground business” no one does it for the environment, and there is no policy to encourage us to recycle. But somewhere in the city, factories are blending the plastic, sorting by colour, and recycling them. Some of those who have lost their work are turning to collecting recyclable materials for work, a job reducing the flow of plastic into the ocean.

More Architects are beginning to embrace the concept of green or sustainable architecture, however through the documentation stages this intent is often lost.

Perhaps all homes should have the capacity to sort and store recyclable waste more effectively, so we engage in the cycle of the materials we use from cradle to grave and hopefully back into circulation for re-use?

There’s a perception “green” architecture costs more to build and it’s hard to persuade clients. I’ve been thinking lately maybe Architecture is like the plastic bottle and architects are like the Binman. Can we make it financially beneficial to everyone in the process of making buildings while reducing and reusing construction materials?

Wall of Ningbo Museum

Architect Wang Shu collected materials from ruins of 30 local houses to build the Ningbo Museum, waste materials made by a Government intent on demolishing old towns used to build new architecture.

Demolition of many buildings in Detroit is often left in place however an initiative by ‘Recycle Detroit’ has created a website with an interactive map to share information of these demolitions. People can find the materials they need and collect them. ‘Reclaim Detroit’ is a company providing another solution, hiring demolition workers to deconstruct buildings more carefully to then sell the salvaged materials.

These are demonstrations of creative thinking, dealing with unique problems of waste. We need to look at solutions like these for a sustainable future, for sustainable architecture. Efficient planning of new builds can save waste of new materials, reducing waste that goes to landfill. Design strategies like designing for a circular economy or using recycled materials for new builds could be embraced by design culture and the building industry providing benefits for the developer and perhaps make new jobs, will also help us create a more sustainable industry.

Maybe, in order to change the world, what we need to do is start by changing the culture of Architecture.


  1. “A+ session: Design to Archive Zero Waste Goal. ” Architect magazine. accessed March 20, 2020. https://www.architectmagazine.com/videos/a-session-design-to-achieve-zero-waste-goals_o
  2. “Wang Shu’s Ningbo History Museum built from the remains of demolished villages.” Dezeen. Accessed March 20, 2020. https://www.dezeen.com/2016/08/18/video-interview-wang-shu-amateur-architecture-studio-ningbo-history-museum-movie/
  3. “The Sustainable Initiatives Deconstructing Detroit.” Archdaily. Accessed March 20, 2020. https://www.archdaily.com/419865/the-sustainable-initiatives-deconstructing-detroit
  4. Anthony Dunne, Fiona Raby, Speculative Everything: Design Fiction, and Social Dreaming. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2013.)vii.


  1. “研究生真是脑洞大开,“收破烂”网站也能有收益” The Founder. Accessed March 20, 2020. http://www.chuangyejia.com/article-8977007.html
  2. Rawn, Evan. “Material Masters: The Traditional Tiles of Wang Shu & Lu Wenyu.”Ningbo Historic Museum. Image © Evan Chakroff. Accessed March 20, 2020. https://www.archdaily.com/638948/material-masters-amateur-architecture-studio-s-work-with-tile?ad_medium=gallery