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I (heart) Fluff
Cameron Sinclair, 16 May 05

Today I received a packet of Fluff, a new composting and potential building material made entirely from recycled household waste.

Fluff is produced by the Bouldin Corporation, which is made up of three companies Bouldin and Lawson, WastAway Services, and Composite Products of America. Together this trio of companies takes regular unsorted household garbage which is then processed for thirty minutes before being transormed in a stable product they call "Fluff". Fluff is a pathogen-free material that can be used for soil amendment for land reclamation, a growing medium for plants but its most exciting application is that of an extruded material for use in the building trade.

Composite Products of America extrudes the Fluff into 8" x 8" tongue and groove posts or landscaping timbers for the building of retaining wall or small one room structures. There is even a bench made of extruded fluff currently located in the Tennessee State Capital Building - talk about adding waste to the government.

All this product needs now is a couple of designers to take it to the next level. Perhaps something like what Ferrara Design did for recycled cardboard with their Global Village Shelters. Ladies, Gentlemen the gauntlet has been thrown.

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Hm. Sounds to me like you received a package of MSWC, municipal solid waste compost.

I just so happen to have the german edition of this excellent waste management text book in front of me - and two things become clear immediately.

A compost of un-separated municipal waste is almost certainly not pathogen free and, if you talk about waste composts without talking about heavy metal levels and more exotic pollutants like pesticides, PCBs and the like you are not being sound.

I could not find information on that on the companies websites, then again, the links to the scientific studies are wrapped in internet-breaking flash, so I canŽt read them. Would be great if someone could extract Lead, Cadmium, Chromium, Copper, Nickel, Tin and Mercury numbers for "fluff".

Cheers, B.

Posted by: Björn van der Meer on 17 May 05

Cool! Looks promising

Posted by: Daniel Johnston on 17 May 05

This sounds like GREAT stuff! Thanks for doing the homework and posting on it.


Posted by: Carridine on 17 May 05

Fluff seems interesting especially if it can replace pressure-treated wood with something as long-term stable and less toxic. If it can be painted even better as it would be a good building material for decks and the like.

The issue, of course, is cost. Pressure treated spruce or pine is cheap, and this has to be cheaper, safer, and more durable.

Posted by: Michael Slavitch on 17 May 05

Cameron, thanks for posting this. Given the fine work you do, it must be heartening to think of material diverted from waste streams, providing a potentially useful building material.

I harbor doubts. This is "downcycling" - conversion of higher grade, unmixed materials to lower-grade, mixed material. Then it's recreated into value-added products with energy and additional materials. Not exactly the kind of "cradle-to-cradle" thinking advocated by Michael Braungart and others.

This may be especially vulnerable to commodity price cycles. When material is "downcycled," it's hard to balance supply and demand. When we make water jugs back into water jugs, we can balance quantities more easily than when we make water jugs into landscaping timbers or flower pots, for example.

Have the producers of this product provided you with a Material Safety Data Sheet? It would be interesting to read that.

Posted by: David Foley on 17 May 05

Table 4. Element and soil analysis of Municipal Solid Waste Compost (MSWC) passing through a one-inch screen.

Pb: 0.9ppm
Na: 0.7ppm
Zi: 4.1ppm
Cd: <.1ppm
Co: <.1ppm

The typical background lead (Pb) levels for soil is 10 to 30 parts per million (ppm)

Posted by: Michael Slavitch on 17 May 05

I watched the intro DVD that came with my Fluff packet and there seems to be a number of phases of metal extraction (which they sell as scrap). I am sure small amounts get through the system.

Posted by: Cameron Sinclair on 17 May 05

Have any of you noticed that whenever the proverbial silver bullet appears,( Fluff = trash to usefull products and easy money for it's producers ), the consumer seems to be the one who gets shot in the foot?

Posted by: Son on 17 May 05

I'm not sure I agree, Son. This seems like a win-win-win to me.

Posted by: alex Steffen on 17 May 05

I'm not sure how in any way the consumer is shot in the foot. The consumer has a choice to either purchase these products or choosing something else, including not choosing anything at all.

Unless what Son is saying is the standard gripe, "I want everything and I want it for free", which is nice in theory (and in practise for some non-physical entities such as some music) but it really doesn't buy you anything in meatspace.

Posted by: Michael Slavitch on 17 May 05

What good are the sales sheets if they have no prices at all.

Does anybody have even a guess on prices of the timbers.

Posted by: jay on 17 May 05

Love the Potting/Storage Shed made from extruded Fluff. Get those guys to team up with the guys who design the buildings for and you've got a real winner!

Posted by: Wtrviaap on 17 May 05

Thanks for the direct links to the studies.

1) I mis-interpreted the meaning of pathogen. Apparently the word refers exclusively to biological agents, i.e. bacteria, virii, parasites and so on. To get a waste product pathogen-free is trivial. Cook it.

2) If you read 0.9 ppm lead in fluff, and you read 10-30 ppm in normal soil, doesn't that make you think? The numbers from the study where reached using the "saturated paste method". This method is not applicable for heavy metal content (as far as I can tell, since it depends on the stuff you want to measure to be solved in water) and you certainly can not compare the numbers from that method with the other normalized numbers. A normal number for lead content in municipal waste compost is more like 500 ppm (of dry weight).

It sounds great to turn waste back into usable products. But us bright greens have to ask these questions right away:
- what toxic substances are in the product
- how much energy does the process require
- do you want your food grown on fluff-substrate

I understand the company is tight lipped for patent reasons? Wonder what the answer to those questions will be.

p.s. I am researching the whole heavy metal content / sampling thing a bit more - if you want to add something on the topic, swing by the bright green wiki

Cheers, B.

Posted by: Bjorn van der Meer on 17 May 05

Another thing...I couldn't find any information re: "byproducts" of the process, such as gases released in the heating cycle (I would presume there would have to be some, else the temps wouldn't be high enough to sterilize?), or water/liquid runoff. They only mention it being "safe" for the workers, they never note whether it is safe for the community or watershed or air.

I think this is about selling a "quick fix" to communities that are running out of cheap landfill space; calling it "recycling" means they get government money, too, which no municipal leader is going to turn down.

Far, far, from an ideal solution.

Posted by: katuah on 19 May 05

Been there, done that...the Thomaston project at the Rural Studio has been using them for a retaining wall, and as someone who cut up and put into place probably 50 of them, I would severely question the non-toxicity of the dust...the stuff I inhaled definitely did not taste too great!

Also if anyone out there wants to use these for a retaining wall, make sure you engineer it properly as these blocks have a tendency to be warped which adds to the problems of having your wall fall over, as the team here found...

Posted by: Hana on 20 May 05

Figures y'all have already been using this stuff, ya damn rockstars.. (that was my poor 'bama impression).

The warping things a little worrying. I'd be interested in taking it from raw form. Anyway, I recieved an email from one of the guys from Wastaway today who says he's going to post more enviro -info on the site ipso pronto.

Posted by: Cameron Sinclair on 20 May 05

So, am I looking in all the wrong places?

Anyone got a link for that "enviro-info" (lovely euphemism, by the way) yet?

Cheers, B.

Posted by: Bjorn van der Meer on 29 May 05



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