The University of Sheffield, UK (Jordan)



Sep '08 - Feb '09

  • The Advanced Waste Economy

    By Jordan Lloyd
    Feb 6, '09 11:34 AM EST

    Warning: REALLY long post ahead.

    Here is a summary of my project in progress. Stick with it, its a lot to take in!


    The Dustbin of Europe
    The UK currently recycles about one quarter of all its waste [1], with 27 million tonnes a year going into landfill sites, more than any other EU member state. According to the Local Government Association, an area the size of Warwick is now landfill and we are due to run out of landfill space within a decade[2]. This condition is exasperated by the fact that waste processing is considered unprofitable. Research undertaken by the School of Architecture in 2008, on behalf of Sheffield Homes concluded that the average dustbin in Sheffield would generate £11 of profit if certain materials were recycled, as opposed to a £28 loss if everyone were to recycle as much of their household waste as possible over a one year period[3]. Yet, from an environmental standpoint, it is essential that governments begin to take the landfill problem seriously. It is completely absurd that plastic food and drinks packaging consumed within days or weeks after manufacture can take hundreds of years to degrade in landfill especially as they are made from easily reusable and finite resources [4]. Given the current perceptions of how little we value our waste, it is surprisingly big business for companies who are contracted by local authorities to recycle waste and provide waste disposal services. The issue then is one of what waste is profitable to recycle, and how the primary motivator for waste processing (profit) can be sustained whilst providing the much larger value of repairing some of the damage caused by perpetuating a consumer society.

    Cradle to Cradle
    Part of the problem lies within the fact that many common waste commodities arrive in the waste stream as aggregate products and not as separate materials. When they are mixed in with different grades of the same material and another contaminates, the raw material output for a second lifespan is inferior and has more limited uses. This is known as downcycling. In addition, bin waste is often incinerated, generating profit by selling the energy back to the national grid, but at the expense of producing harmful emissions (that have to be removed using expensive and complex technologies) and with the permanent and total loss of the potentially reusable incinerated materials. Therefore, the waste problem must be tackled by upcycling materials instead. Thankfully, science is providing breakthroughs in upcycling materials effectively by using natural processes. In one example, plastic bottles which would have taken hundreds of years to degrade can now be converted into a bio-degradable alternative using bacteria[5].

    This 'cradle-to-cradle' (as opposed to cradle-to-grave) approach reconfigures materials and manufacturing systems to produce commodities (from carpet tiles to car manufacturing plants) whose waste output actually benefits the environment. This means designing factories which emit clean filtered water or food packaging that once thrown away, provide nutrition for the soil as it bio-degrades [6]. The average consumer is assaulted by a bewildering minefield of what is really environmentally friendly and what isn't (for example, paper bags are considered to be more environmentally friendly but consume far more energy to produce). Instead of mining our natural capital, why not mine landfill instead, and use waste as a raw material for upcycling?

    Such an industry would be an essential part of the UK's economy, but should be designed using cradle to cradle principles. The landfill sites of today are the gold mines of tomorrow, where landfill miners and waste engineers extract, disassemble and transport waste for further sorting and reconfiguration into useful environmentally products that sees waste as feedstock for the Earth. The biggest question is where will this army of Advanced Waste Economy workers come from? Part of the answer lies in looking at our own labour force.

    Reskilling the workforce
    The Battle or Orgreave in June 1984, could be taken as the symbolic point signalling the death of the labour intensive industrial workforce in the UK . Up to this point, the mining industry that produced coal for energy was nationalised and heavily subsidised. Increased mechanisation of the process coupled with the Thatcherite government aim to introduce the free market system was met with resistance from the trade unions. After a turbulent period, the unions were defeated and as a result, over 70,000 workers were made redundant around the Sheffield area. Despite numerous reskilling initiatives, the transition towards a service based economy has been difficult and not entirely successful, as Sheffield's annual job growth rate is still a great deal less proportionally than the national average[7].

    Mining communities are not the only groups losing out. Steel and textile workers in the Sheffield/Rotherham area were facing redundancies due to increased mechanisation as early as the late 1970's[8]. The end of the industrial workforce has ongoing social problems, with high levels of drug dependencies and incapacity benefit claims. Advanced Waste Economy recognises the need for a number vocational reskilling programmes that are tailored to reskilling workers to a new kind of raw material, whilst retaining the skills base of traditional labour intensive manufacturing industries.

    The psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihaly asserts that "The idea that will change the game of knowledge is the realization that it is more important to understand events, objects, and processes in their relationship with each other than in their singular structure. Western science has achieved wonders with its analytic focus, but it is now time to take synthesis seriously."[9] With regard to Advanced Waste Economy, reskilling should be paired with new research in the biological, chemical and materials science fields to better understand the processes of decomposition, disassembly and re-processing to work with nature, and make the UK a leader in advanced waste conversion. The knock on effects are huge, as the knowledge gained can be used by all nations, especially those that are rapidly industrialising countries.

    A new national park
    The area of interest is the Rother Valley situated in between Sheffield and Rotherham. Once the site of a former surface mine at Orgreave, the area is bounded by several villages and townships and is very well connected by its proximity to the M1, the A57 and numerous train lines (existing and former). Although currently under development with plans to build a large mixed use development, with 4000 new homes over 300 hectares[10], it is instead proposed that Advanced Waste Economy operates whilst literally growing a new national parkland. Sheffield is well known for its proximity to the Peak district, and the Rother Valley already has a country park with associated leisure facilities such as boating lakes and is also part of the trans-pennine trail[11]. By tripling the size of the country park, new leisure activities can be implemented such as bike trails, walking and horseback riding, as well as re-introducing wildlife back into the area. Successful precedents such as Emscher park in Germany show that former contaminated industrial sites can successfully be naturalised using effective ecological restoration strategies[12]. However, rather than focus solely on heritage and leisure, Advanced Waste Economy actually operates within the restoration strategy, providing jobs and livelihoods for communities around the area, with amenities provided for through integrated funding schemes provided by public and privately funded initiatives. Localised renewable energy production is also proposed, which can be developed by using re-processed waste products - such as concentrated solar technologies recycled from plastic[13]. The reinvigoration of existing or former train lines is initiated, supplemented by light transport infrastructures such as elevated biking/walking trails or even cable-car transportation for people and waste goods to various locations around the valley, reminiscent of Cedric Price's Potteries Thinkbelt scheme[14]. Infrastructure changes as trees grow and biological diversification increases, thus transforming the kinds of activity in a particular area – and is eventually left to degrade when it is no longer needed.

    An Industrial Re-Evolution
    Advanced Waste Economy as a project aims to provide a serious look at how governments and companies can effectively tackle the waste problem in a way where people and nature benefit. If we can design our way into an industrial system that has changed society with all its unintended consequences, we can design our way into a new kind of industrial system, where 'consumption' and 'waste' no longer have negative connotations. By balancing ecology, economy and equity[15], Advanced Waste Economy attempts to valourise a potentially emerging industry whilst providing new jobs and new livelihoods for people who once depended on now redundant industries. Sheffield is still well known for its industries, and there is no reason why this tradition cannot continue. The project also attempts to see if the mass peer production practices emerging over the internet can make significant positive changes in the real word by understanding that the synthesis of knowledge and realising the interconnections between them is just as important as the knowledge itself, and that the architect plays a powerful role of facilitator that envisages positive futures for the communities they design for.

    [1] Friends of the Earth, Waste & Recycling
    [3] School of Architecture,
    [6] Braungart, M. & McDonough W., Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things, North Point Press 2002
    [7] Sheffield City Council
    [8] Townsend, A., The Impact of Recession on Industry, Employment and the Regions, 1976-1982
    [14] Hardingham, S. & Rattenbu, K., Cedric Price: Potteries Thinkbelt (Supercrit #1), Routledge 2007

    Why communities can benefit from an Advanced Waste Economy


    Following on from initial investigations looking at the mining sector, I thought it would be interesting to plot traditional skills required in mining operations to an Advanced Waste Economy equivalent. In many cases, there is a switchover in terms of raw material (no longer coal, but waste) with relatively little re-training required. Core skills from each job are mapped and compared, with a compatibility rating attached. The exercise threw up some very interesting questions, and possible pitfalls.

    - An extensive amount of re-training and re-education needs to happen anyway.
    - Pitching a 'waste economy' to mining communities will most likely result in widespread disagreement and outrage. Why would anyone want to work with rubbish? It is a symbolic downgrading.
    - Even if you convinced mining communities to participate, by the time an advanced waste economy takes off, most miners will either be too old to participate or they will be dead.


    The Advanced Waste Economy is developed as a framework that addresses community growth in a reciprocal relationship with the environment, where community contribution is key. Any designed infrastructure (physical and social) should be flexible to accommodate change and uncertainty in the future.

    Here are some ideas of how to address these fundamental questions.
    - An extensive amount of re-training and re-education needs to happen anyway.
    Indeed. Although in many cases (such as truck drivers swapping one raw material for another), extensive education programmes need to be in place to show Advanced Waste Workers what they are dealing with. Landfill waste is a very unknown quantity with regard to composition and hazards that arise out of it, such as methane gas buildup and leaking contaminated into the ground condition. In addition, the advanced processing mechanisms that allow re-metabolisation of waste products into a. more useful products and b. something that acts as feedstock for the environment is still very much in the research stage at the moment. As we begin to understand the very complex process of how things like mycelium break down contaminates or how pseudonomas strains convert plastics into biodegradable plastics, this knowledge should disseminated to everyone involved in the process.

    - Pitching a 'waste economy' to mining communities will most likely result in widespread disagreement and outrage. Why would anyone want to work with rubbish? It is a symbolic downgrading.
    No one would willingly work with waste. However, how is it that the mining industry is founded upon working conditions which are hazardous and undesirable. The answer lies in the fact that a. the raw material is essential to the UK's economy for power generation and it's effects on the society, b. There is a financial incentive. Whether or not the industry is state run or privately owned, coal as a commodity is paid for and therefore its workers are also paid for. Waste is currently unprofitable to process (hence it is landfilled or incinerated) as separation technologies cannot make the process profitable. When coal was not profitable, the government susidised the entire industry until the mid-1980's. Is there a future condition (catalysed by our current global recession) where governments may have to heavily subsidise waste processing?

    Miners and mining communities have a proud heritage. For generations the same families worked in the mines and whole communities were based around collieries. They performed one of the most essential jobs in British history. Can the same be said for waste processing? The landfills of today could be the goldmines of tomorrow, if extraction of natural capital ceases and an alternative is needed. Landfill miners do not seem so far fetched as it seems - going into hazardous working conditions and extracting a commodity for transformation into something more useful. Physical prowess and a great deal of common sense is needed to dismantle a 500+ component fridge into something that can be effectively recycled or processed into new goods.

    The challenge for Advanced Waste Economy is to symbolically valourise the waste industry. One easy way to get around this is to design a manufacturing infrastructure that takes waste, re-metabolises it, manufactures it into something new and useful, and make it so explicit that everyone is aware that something that they consume actually benefits the environment, and not destroy it. It creates jobs and opportunities for people.

    - Even if you convinced mining communities to participate, by the time an advanced waste economy takes off, most miners will either be too old to participate or they will be dead.
    That may be true, but the question is then about the future generations of people in mining communities. Ongoing social problems still exist in communities where families struggling in a post-mining service based sector leads to generations whose aspiration is to go on the dole. Valourising a waste industry and the associated vocational training offers an alternative to the governments insistence on higher education which does not suit everyone.

    As mentioned earlier, Advanced Waste Economy is a framework of integrated design systems. We must design a new vocational training programme for advanced waste workers, and its roots are founded upon the experience and skills of the traditional industries such as steel production and mining in the local area.

    Advanced Waste Economy cannot operate without the backing of the community of which it serves. If the design of the entire economy can be geared towards showing how it explicitly benefits local communities, then it may succeed.

    The Rother Valley


    The Rother Valley is an area that sits in between Sheffield and Rotherham in South Yorkshire. It is bounded by several villages and contains several local nature reserves and a small country park at its southern tip. Following the closure of the the Orgreave open cast pit at the northern end three years ago, a new masterplan is currently in the planning process to develop the Rother Valley into a government campus, associated leisure facilities and 4000 new homes. In the re-imagning of the Rother Valley as the catalyst for an advanced waste economy, it is proposed that all the nature reserves and country parks are consolidated into a super sized country park, planted and cared for by the mining communities that surround the valley.

    An integrated social network and leisure strategy is developed that matches local and EU wide funding schemes into something that actively benefits the communities; providing amenities and activities for communities to enjoy as a new park is being grown, with the goal of a new economy and social structure based no longer on coal pits, but country parkland, leisure and heritage, which requires constant care and maintenance. Within this restorative ecological strategy, the advanced waste economy operates by processing landfill waste from Sheffield, Rotherham and beyond and transforming it into environmentally friendly commodities, with materials brought in on a carefully designed infrastructure that moves goods and people all over the valley.

    Advanced Waste Ecomomy: Initial Programme


    A diagram how several themes interconnect over a 100 year period. Planting strategies coincide with the development of a community amenity and activity framework - with the development of the waste economy and its infrastructure occurring in roughly three phases. Revenues generated from the economy go straight back into the community through public/private funding, in addition to a welfare scheme to develop amenities communities actually want.
    Next revision of drawing: Clarify aspects of the diagram to make clearer, or split into two diagrams.


    The programme is spatialised as a landuse map, charting the development of the Rother Valley over two centuries. Future scenarios are the desired outcomes of the Advanced Waste Economy framework.
    Next revision of drawing: Add current condition.


    The programme as upcycling processes. Here programmatic elements of leisure, waste and education are designed to a reciprocal relationship. Two common waste products are shown as processes; such as the plastic bottle that turns into a biodegradable golfball filled with seeds. Usage of the driving range contributes to the local biodiversity as balls hit biodegrade and birds eat the seeds and spread them.
    Next revision of drawing: Extrapolate each process individually to clarify. Add a new process for waste paper processing.

    For more information on this project and my studio, visit Studio 2.0 Tactics
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  • On agents, networks and peer to peer collaboration

    By Jordan Lloyd
    Nov 20, '08 5:54 AM EST

    It's been a busy month for me. Live projects coming to a close (see previous entry), conferences and the start of our studio has left me with little to no time to get anything done (well, apart from having the odd beer or six at various functions). I've decided to break this one down into five... View full entry

  • The Sheffield Food Network

    By Jordan Lloyd
    Oct 20, '08 4:15 PM EST

    So it's been a while since the last update - as ever the workload is intense but it's strangely satisfying. I won't blather on, except to say that the masters thesis is in, and I'll be posting up a copy for public consumption as soon as I have negotiate IP with the department. In the meantime... View full entry

  • On social software and architecture schools

    By Jordan Lloyd
    Sep 25, '08 1:36 PM EST

    Term begins next Monday and I'm still swamped with stuff to do. Currently thrashing out the second draft of my dissertation due in Oct. 15th. My paper is essentially on how we as part of architectural institutions should be using social software (i.e blogs/wikis/etc.) as a way of not only aiding... View full entry

  • So term hasn't even started yet...

    By Jordan Lloyd
    Sep 8, '08 5:32 PM EST

    ...and I am absolutely swamped. One of the best things about final year at any masters course in Architecture is the dissertation. It pretty much dictates your entire holiday - if you want to do well at it you can forget about doing a job at practice unless you are incredibly organized and... View full entry

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