Repurposing has recently gained momentum all over the world. Repurposing has become the alternative to recycling. Recycling requires a recycling plant, technological and human resources and is expensive. And not all types of plastic can be recycled. Because of this people have taken to repurposing instead of recycling.
Most of repurposing is DIY and have home-related functions. But some have gone a bit further and taken repurposing to a whole new level. What began as a way to overcome cost constraints in construction has given a whole new perspective in architecture and plastic waste management. Houses now can be constructed with plastic bottles instead of the conventional bricks as the building material. The plastic bottles so used are called Eco-bricks.
What are Eco-bricks?
In simple terms these are PET bottles that are used as building blocks for construction purposes. These are not simple plastic bottles though. For a normal PET bottles to become an Eco-brick, bottles of same size are collected and filled with cleaned and dried non-biodegradable and non-recyclable used plastics. PET bottles are filled with used non-biodegradable non-recyclable plastic like plastic bags, plastic packaging, plastic straws, Styrofoam and cellophane to a set density.
PET bottles that are so filled called Eco-bricks and are now ready to be used in construction. It is important to note that the bottles need to be filled with high density so that it can withstand heavy load. Metals, glass, biodegradables and paper is strictly not to be used in the making of an Eco-brick.
Eco-bricks are also known as eco-blocks or bottle bricks.
How did it come about?
Bottle structures are not a new concept. It can be in fact traced back to a hundred years ago, in 1905 Tom Kelly built a house made of glass bottles and mud in Nevada, United States of America. This was due to the the high cost of wood in Nevada at that period. In subsequent years other bottle buildings were made but mostly from used glass bottles.
It is believed that using plastic bottles as building blocks emerged as local initiatives as result of challenges in finance and plastic waste management. The most significant incident can that can be traced back to 2005 in Guatemala, where Susanne Heisse saw an elderly woman construct a simple house using such eco-bricks and started Pura Vida Atitlan consequently.
How to make and use?
Eco-bricks are fairly easy to make. All you need are used PET bottles of same size. It is usually recommended to use bottles of 1.5 litre capacity.
Collect, sort, wash and dry flexible plastic waste that is non-biodegradable. Styrofoam and cellophane can also be used. Plastic wastes that are generated at home like foils, wrappers, cling films and plastic bags can be used provided they are flexible.
Once you have collected them, compress them inside the PET bottle with help of a stick. Make sure that the waste is compactly packed. Squeeze the bottle or stand on it to make sure it is tight and can hold your weight. Seal the top with the cap of the bottle and you now have an eco-brick in your hands.
Eco-bricks can be bound together using tire-bands to make short-term structures like tables, sheds, beds and stages. They are uncovered and constructed indoors to avoid UV photo-degradation. They last from months to several years.
Eco-bricks are also used for long-term structures like benches, seats, walls, raised gardens and public green spaces. Eco-bricks here are covered with mortar such as concrete and be laid horizontally and vertically to suit structural needs.
These eco-bricks can also be removed at the end of the life of the construction and be used again.
Eco-bricks: Economy and the environment
Eco-bricks are truly environmental-friendly. Eco-bricks contribute to the decrease in plastic wastes that are non-recyclable. Single use plastic is subject to photo degradation and this emits the greenhouse gases methane and ethylene which are highly harmful to the environment. Recycling can not always be the option as majority of plastic produced and used is not recyclable.
This leaves with plastic wastes that have nowhere to go but landfills or simply on the land. Eco-bricks are a great way to reduce plastic in the environment. Eco-bricks sequester and store away plastic that will other harm the environment by was of microplastic breakdown and emission of greenhouse gases during photodegradation.
It can be observed that Eco-bricks are mainly used in developing countries where the traditional materials for construction are too expensive and cannot be afforded by everyone. Eco-bricks are economical for the builder as they as considerably cheaper to make and transport. Eco-bricks are the perfect fit for under-resourced communities. Structures made for long term-use with Eco-bricks have the same life span as those made with conventional materials.
Eco-bricks are also used as barter by organizations to trade with the communities. Eco bricks are bartered with cash or other physical resources. Eco-bricks are also used NGO’s around the world to provide infrastructure where there is none. Eco-bricks also have the added advantage of not needing industrial manufacture thereby making it’s production green and cheap.
Eco-bricks: The solution
With no definitive long-lasting alternative to plastic that can be mass produced and cost same as plastic, plastic is here to stay. With the ease that comes with using plastics or it’s affordability the complete switch to bio-degradable products by the majority of consumers cannot be made. So, the amount of non-recyclable plastic waste can only be expected to grow. Curbing production of one type of plastic by very few governments around world does not address the problem of existing non-recyclable plastic waste.
Eco-bricks are the most easy and productive solution to tackle non-recyclable plastic. Eco-bricks are gaining momentum in places where there are more non-recyclable plastics than there are ways to appropriately dispose of them.
The growing trend of repurposing stems from the acknowledgement of recycling not being the sole answer to the plastic waste management crisis. Eco-bricks are the embodiment of repurposing as it takes a problem and turns it into the solution.