Hammaring away

The Hammarsdale Waste Beneficiation Centre (HWBC)


When last did you hear of a construction project coming in ahead of schedule, under-budget and surpassing local labour requirements? It’s happened at the Hammarsdale Waste Beneficiation Centre (HWBC) in KwaZulu-Natal, where contractor Robertson & Poole paid great attention to community liaison and embraced the concept of building with alternative building technologies (ABTs).

“The contractor has been fantastic. It was their first time working with compressed earth blocks (CEBs), but they were interactive and engaging and embraced the concept. They did a great job training people on the materials and stuck to the specs,” says Chris Whyte from Use-It.

The HWBC was initiated by Use-It Waste Beneficiation, a nonprofit company that identifies waste beneficiation opportunities in the eThekwini municipal area to divert waste from landfill and create jobs in the green economy.

The actual structure contains about 21 000 CEBs, which are bricks made by converting waste soil and building rubble through the RamBrick process. CEBs have a carbon footprint one third of conventional bricks and divert waste from landfills where space is declining. Through this project, some 357 tonnes of waste was diverted from landfill and used to make the blocks.

The steel-frame structure has concrete foundations and a base layer of clay bricks was used below the CEBs. The centre also has gabion walls (using some of the 80 000t of waste rock from the site next door) as feature walls and another feature wall incorporating recycled glass bottles. Stormwater on the site is channeled through an engineered wetland called a “bioswale” to clean all surface water runoff on-site.

“It’s looking fantastic,” enthuses Whyte.

But the struggle is real

Unfortunately, the time gains won by the contractor are nothing compared to the delays this project has faced. Having started in 2012 when R30 million funding was secured from the National Department of Environmental Affairs’ Green Fund, it was only in November 2016 when the tender process started and the professional team was appointed.

“I used to have hair at the start of this,” jokes a smooth-headed Whyte, alluding to some of the challenges, which he says started at plan approval stage. “Even though the CEBs have all the certifications [Agrément, SABS, NHBRC, CIDB] to qualify as a robust building material, people are petrified when faced with something new. They throw every countermeasure at us to compensate for the unknown. As a result, the facility has been way over-designed in terms of foundations and ring beams and so on.”

This over-design added material and design costs to the project. The three-year delay in getting the project started also meant that construction costs increased by about 30% by the time it did get started. This meant that another building initially hoped to be included on the site had to be left out.

People are petrified when faced with something new. They throw every countermeasure at us to compensate for the unknown. As a result, the facility has been way over-designed – CW.

Private sector developers would shy away from, or completely abandon projects with timelines such as these. As a non-profit organisation, Use-It has been leading the crusade to prove the concept of alternative building materials. Whyte believes that the needs of the local market – the housing backlog that needs to be addressed, job creation required, the need to deal with waste usefully, green economy and green procurement ambitions – could all be addressed by projects such as the HWBC, and there is not one main issue that needs to be addressed but a combination of factors that need to be fixed. Different departments need to engage with each other more.

Small daily challenges on the project have included constant theft of metal fence posts to sell for scrap.

Known for his circular-economy thinking (Use-It was a finalist in the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Circulars Award), Whyte explains how he hopes to tackle the challenge of fence-post theft with an affiliated food security project. Instead of fences around the property, vegetable growing structures from Umgibe Farming Organics and Training (wooden structures holding soil-filled plastic bags) could be erected. This would contribute to food security in the community, and down the line could evolve to markets selling excess produce or even agroprocessing opportunities on the site.


Getting beneficiating…

Operational funding had originally been secured from Cooperative Governance, but because of the delays on the project, the money was re-absorbed and it’s not clear when funds will be released again. Because this is a pioneering project and the cost of operations difficult to plot precisely, estimates have been given, which can make securing funding difficult.

The HWBC includes offices, a meeting area, training area and retail area, while the main facility was designed to cater for handling recyclable waste collected through the ‘orange bag system’ in eThekwini municipality. It’s envisaged that a number of operating companies will share the space, and will initially focus on projects beneficiating plastics, glass and e-waste. Use-It’s CEB manufacturing equipment has also been relocated to the Hammarsdale site.

Once completed, the facility will aim to attract the right industries, companies and incubators for entrepreneurs eager to be more involved in the waste economy. “We need to fine-tune and start signing leases. I imagine it will take a good six months to bed the facility down,” says Whyte.

The HWBC has nods of approval from the Minister of Environmental Affairs, the local Mayor, the United Nations and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, as well as the community eager to benefit from job creation.

The centre has the potential to create 150 long-term jobs, and already Whyte has ambitions for phase 2 of the project on the Hammarsdale site, which he says could work in collaboration with a Working4Water project harvesting alien vegetation, by establishing a mill and a subsequent biomass plant for the waste material, which could generate electricity for the facility.

In brief:

Location: Hammarsdale (about 40km west of Durban, KZN)

Purpose: A multi-tenanted mixed material waste recycling and up-cycling centre and business incubator

Start date: Funding secured from Green Fund in 2012

Construction start: April 2017

Completion: June 2018

Cost: R30 million

Floor size: 2865m2 (1633m2 under roof)

Total land size: 8.2ha (1.6ha developed in first phase)

Land owner: Ingonyama Trust Board

Sustainability features: Alternative building materials used: Compressed earth blocks (CEBs), recycled stone gabion walls and bottle walls, waste materials from adjacent developments were incorporated, recycling some 4800t soil and 120t stone. Rainwater harvesting, waterless urinals, solar water heating, energy-efficient lighting and indigenous landscaping.

HWBC Professional team:

Engineer: JG Afrika

Architect: MK Bhana

Quantity Surveyor: Felix & Msomi

Electrical: CA du Toit

Contractor: Robertson & Poole

Client: Use-It

Any thoughts or comments on the use of alternative building 
materials in South Africa? Join the conversation on the 
OpenSourceGreen forum.
The Hammarsdale waste beneficiation centre is built using alternative building materials such as compressed earth blocks, recycled glass bottles and stone for gabion walls.

This image shows the proximity of the centre to the community and how the stormwater on site is channeled through an engineered wetland called a “bioswale” to clean all surface water runoff.


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