urban mining
We are justly concerned about the waste and pollution generated by cities. But what if these same negatives could become a positive? Urban Mining of the city’s overlooked resources is the way forward.

“Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting.
We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.”

Buckminster Fuller

Year after year, resources are fed into the city to keep the urban machine running. For most of history this has been done in a linear model: natural and material resources go in; waste and pollution come out and is buried or left to pollute the environment.

A new model is transforming the way we think about resources in the city—a more sustainable, circular approach that realizes the byproduct and outputs of the city’s daily operations are a valuable source of raw material.

Various terms are used to describe this new direction—the circular economy, urban mining, waste recovery, energy harvesting, and more. Regardless of the phrasing, all align around an understanding that waste is nothing more than resources in the wrong place.

Why strip another mountain of its trees, fauna, and wildlife to get the minerals at its core when tons of metal lay dormant beneath the city? Why exploit people and habitats in distant countries to mine gold and rare materials when they can be recovered from the waste urban populations produce every day? Why use fossil fuels to warm homes and make plastics when the heat and emissions from transportation and industry can be used for the same purposes?

This book is an exploration of ways in which the city’s output, byproducts, and under-utilized assets can be recovered, reimagined, and used in new ways through urban mining. It is an illustration of the potential created by the overlooked and unsung operations of the city.

We are at a moment when car exhaust, heat from trains, sewage, factory emissions, wastewater, street runoff, and asphalt scalding from the sun are not seen as troublesome parts of life in the city but as resource-rich components that hold the key for a more sustainable urban future.

Here is the table of contents of Urban Mining: 50 Ways to Mine the City:


  1. Turn Exhaust into Printer Ink 3
  2. Upcycle Old Power Cables into Sidewalk Tiles 5
  3. Capture Heat from Subway Cars 7
  4. Make Fish Food from Factory Emissions 9
  5. Harvest Ambient Energy 11
  6. Recover Forgotten Infrastructure 13
  7. Use Urinals to Create Building Materials 15
  8. Source Water from Air Conditioning Systems 17
  9. Create Energy from Passing Trains 19
  10. Extract Fertilizer from Wastewater 21
  11. Use Commuters to Heat Buildings 23
  12. Recover Metals from Street Runoff 25
  13. Harvest the Urban Forest of Paper Cups 27
  14. Make Beer from Wastewater 29
  15. Harvest Power in Subways and Side Streets 31
  16. Reframe Fast Food Grease as a Source of Fuel 33
  17. Harvest Energy from Train Vibrations 35
  18. Recover Heat from Sewer Pipes 37
  19. Mine Old Dumps for Resources 39
  20. Produce Fertilizer from Pee 41
  21. Transform fire hydrants into Drinking Fountains 43
  22. Recycle Electronic Waste 45
  23. See Buildings as Stockpiles of Material 47
  24. Warm Homes with a Subway Station 49
  25. Transform Building Vibrations into Energy 51
  26. Convert Carbon into Plastic 53
  27. Extract Heat from Hot Streets 55
  28. Use Train Brakes as Energy Generators 57
  29. Gather Public Health Data from Sewage 59
  30. Produce Honey from the City’s Margins 61
  31. Warm Homeless Shelters with Building Vents 63
  32. Use Urban Water Pipes for Hydropower 65
  33. Get Gold and Silver from Human Waste 67
  34. Process Heat from Urban Data Centers 69
  35. Reuse Abandoned Mines as Heat Batteries 71
  36. Feast on Urban Greens 73
  37. Turn Passing vehicles into Energy 75
  38. Use Sewage Gas to Power Treatment Plants 77
  39. Turn CO2 into Food and Fuel 79
  40. Use Building Height to Generate Energy 81
  41. Put Streets to Work as a Printing Press 83
  42. Use Wastewater as a Source of Hydrogen 85
  43. Convert Air Pollutants into Food Nutrients 87
  44. See Opportunity in Subway Air Vents 89
  45. Create Energy from Wastewater Bacteria 91
  46. Transform Pedestrians into Power 93
  47. build with used Toilet Paper 95
  48. Harvest Water from Cooling Towers 97
  49. Extract Metals from old industrial sites 99
  50. Let Urban Wastelands Do Their Thing 101

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