By Christoph Pirker

We walk on countless paving stones per day but seldom do we ever ask ourselves if there is a better, more sustainable way to produce them. Well, a small South African organisation has found it and not only is it sustainable, but it also helps people from the local community.


Pollution is an omnipresent sight when walking in South African cities such as Durban, with plastic, metal and glass littering rivers and roadsides. A local NGO called Green Corridors has set out to tackle this problem by upcycling materials into various concrete-based products such as paving stones and concrete mixes. By collecting and crushing glass bottles as well as old building materials, a concrete mix that consists of 87% recycled products can be created, which is also sturdier and more wear resistant than many common concrete mixes. 


During a recent lecture at ETH Zurich, Jonathan Welch, a member of Green Corridors, gave insights into the processes of upcycling.


Waste collection and processing

The first step in producing the environmentally friendly concrete is to collect the non-recyclable waste. Most plastics Green Corridors uses are either collected during beach clean-ups, from curbside collections, or are salvaged from landfill bound waste. The plastic is then shredded at a Green Corridors facility. 


Glass bottles are collected from the local community or from industrial plants. 

After the long process of sorting and cleaning, the bottles are put into a glass crusher, which turns them into sand like granulate. As glass is tougher and more wear resistant than sand, the resulting concrete has many improved properties. 


Illegally dumped building materials, like bricks, stones and gravel, are also collected for upcycling and crushed. This mix helps to replace the gravel, which is present in most normal concretes.


All these components, along with cement, are combined to create the paving stones as well as the “Readimix” concrete mix. 




Why paving stones?

One may naturally ask: why pavers? 


The answer is however quite simple: paving stones are relatively simple to produce. Thanks to a good production line structure, a team of four, previously unskilled workers, are able to produce around 60 paving stones per day, a very impressive number when the amount of steps involved is considered.    


Benefits for the local community

The upcycling of these materials into the pavers has had many benefits for the local, especially the less affluent, communities of Durban.


 With unemployment in Durban at almost 30%, Green Corridors offers employment for people who might otherwise struggle to find a job. The company also offers certain language and training programs for employees, with the aim of developing skills useful in the job market. 


By selling these concrete products, Green Corridors is also able to raise additional capital, with which they are then able to support local communities through investments into regional start-ups and companies. 


Furthermore, advantages of cleaning the local rivers, beaches and forests of waste, cannot be understated, as it allows cleaner drinking water access as well as revitalising the local ecosystem. In addition, with less environmental pollution the tourism industry will also be invigorated, which in turn would lead to more wealth and prosperity for the Durban’s population.


Thanks to the highly motivated work of Jonathan Welch and his team, Green Corridors is quite literally paving the way for future sustainable upcycled products. 


So, the next time you walk over some paving, think of Green Corridors and remember that opportunities are always under your nose if you just look for them. 



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