Why Should We Care About The Malba Economy?

By recognizing the value of Malba, a circular economy model can help address the cost of unsustainable extraction, transportation, and manufacturing of virgin resources, as well add value to your project.

Neha Gupta
Min Read

From water and electricity to concrete and steel, it takes up a large amount of material and energy to build our homes. A generic construction requires bricks, cement, sand, glass, timber, steel, and glass, the volumes of which vary depending on the typology and technology. Up to a third of the total weight of building materials delivered to a construction site ends up as waste [1]. At the same time, advancement in technology and rising living standards lead to around 5% of our buildings getting demolished every year. [2] Together, the construction and demolition debris account for 530 million tons of Malba annually. [3] We see it on roadsides, on the outskirts of our cities, or in landfills, mainly because it is rendered worthless in our linear economy model.  

The Malba Economy is a thriving informal system of keeping building materials in the loop. It can keep our streets clean, save the environment from rapid degradation, but most importantly, it can generate employment and help you save a lot of money.  

#1 There is Value in Malba

Demolition contractors present a very interesting proposition to home owners. Along with rendering demolition services, they also pay home owners to take the Malba away.  A couple of lakhs, free demolition, and not having to deal with the waste – that’s a fantastic business model.

But while this seems like an attractive proposition, this only means that the actual value of our buildings is a lot more than what we have sold it for. Even after the demolition contractors have salvaged what they could, the remaining Malba also has enormous economic value that is lost after its disposal. Thankfully, with developing technology, we can now create value from concrete debris as well! Concrete waste can be processed on site – manually or by getting a mobile crushing unit, to create new building materials. It can save you money on buying new construction materials such as sand, stone aggregate, and even bricks. With rising costs and dropping material quality, this may be the best-case scenario for future buildings.

Figure 1: Creating new value from concrete debris (© Malba Project)

#2 Better Materials at a Lower Price Point

Every material in a building has an economic value, which often depreciates after its demolition. For example, a standard timber door acquired from the market for Rs.18000 – Rs.20000 can be dismantled from the building and sold to a second-hand store for Rs.3000 – Rs.4000 at the end of building life. It can then be repurchased by a new user for Rs.6000 – Rs.8000, thereby retaining the functional value of the material, saving money, and also reducing the mining of virgin materials. On the contrary, if the door is demolished, it will require the owner (waste generator) to pay Rs.360 – Rs.720 for its collection, processing, and disposal by the municipality.  

Hence, if one chooses to deconstruct the building at the end of life, a considerable volume of salvageable materials can be resold through an alternate retail channel. It will benefit not only the building owner, but also every other player in the value chain.  

Figure 2: Retaining the value of materials at the end of building life (Image: Millionacres, Graphic: Author)

#3 Pimp my Ride House

Think about thrift shops, or the infamous Pimp My Ride. Finding that gorgeous, one-of-a-kind find is the best feeling ever. Or sprucing up that retro car to be the coolest kid on the block. The same applies to construction as well.

By carefully harvesting materials from the buildings to be demolished (a concept commonly known as urban mining), the demolition contractor retains value and keeps the materials in the loop for longer. The materials extracted are sold to second-hand stores that add value and commercialize the materials by repairing, refurbishing, or remanufacturing. Finally, this spruced-up material is bought by its new owner. This value addition not only retains a higher economic value for the malba but also provides a new source of livelihood in the economy.

Materials commonly extracted during dismantling and deconstruction of the building include doors and windows, glass panels, partitions, furniture, sanitary fixtures, pipes, electrical equipment, steel reinforcement, bricks, and HVAC installations. However, not all materials have the same value, and not all require the same level of value addition. Extraction of doors and windows from a building, for example, is profitable for reuse as the component has a longer lifespan and our construction system allows for an easy extraction.

On the other hand, extracting bricks in their original condition is nearly impossible due to their irreversible bond using mortar and dependence on other building layers. As a result, they are recycled into rubble for road base, kerbstone, pavement blocks, concrete bricks, and manufactured sand and sold again at a lower price. By adding value to the materials as per the 9R framework, the malba can be reutilized to support an economy.  

Figure 3: Value addition by various stakeholders (© Neha Gupta)

An established network of informal traders is actively involved in the recovery, recycling, and reselling of the C&D waste back into the market.[3] However, a lack of formalization of this sector and our perception of the term ‘waste’ have made us reluctant to buy reused/recycled products. Consequently, our dependence on virgin resources has made our existing building materials a wasted economic resource. In India, the demand for materials in 2021-2022 is anticipated to be 380 million tons for cement, 50 million tons for steel, 600 billion bricks, 400 million cubic meters for aggregates, and 40 billion cubic meters for timber,[4] with the majority of this need being fulfilled by mining virgin resources.

By recognizing the value of malba, a circular economy model can help address the cost of unsustainable extraction, transportation, and manufacturing of virgin resources.  

So support the Malba Economy!

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