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The general premise of an ecobrick is very simple: gather all of the materials you cannot recycle at home or locally, and pack them as tightly as you can into a plastic bottle. This tight tube of plastic becomes a building block, which can then be used for a range of things from sculptures to construction projects. Could this be the best solution to plastic pollution, or do they pose more problems further down the line?
Ecobricks and Their Applications
The ecobrick movement has gathered momentum over the last few years as plastic pollution has made phenomenal global headlines. It has become an increasingly popular material to build with, especially in developing countries, as plastic is exceptionally easy to come across at home or littered in the streets.
Typically mixed with natural building methods such as cob, adobe, or wattle & daub, the ecobricks provide an excellent structure to build with. They also act as a natural insulator due to the tightly-packed insulating plastics.
The Global Ecobrick Alliance has been active since 2015, and have provided extensive guidelines on how to properly make ecobricks. Their principles encompass a circular, cradle-to-cradle design to increase the longevity of the ecobrick and its components. For example, they recommend silicone and not glue to adjoin each brick, so that it can be easily taken apart and re-purposed if needs be.
Using natural building materials as opposed to cement also ensures that the bricks can be extricated undamaged, should the building be taken down. From homes to chairs to sculpted works of art: the whole premise of up-cycling plastic to form useful products is inherently sustainable.
The Positives of Ecobricks
There are many positive aspects of using non-recyclables in this way. The BBC exposé “War on Plastic” reported that over 60% of the plastic that the UK “recycles” is being sent overseas and dumped in countries in Asia, like Malaysia. Waste is littering the shores, as many countries simply do not have the recycling infrastructure to deal with the number of plastics produced.
Ecobricks are part of a solution that enables people to not only clean up their rivers and coastlines, but these once-wasted materials can be used to build things of direct benefit to local communities. Several NGOs are also offering plastic incentives, whereby individuals are paid to collect waste plastics and make ecobricks for various projects.
Their design also reinforces the need to close many of our industrial loops and start investing in circular economies as opposed to the throwaway culture that is causing harm to the natural world. Plastic has received hugely negative press lately, but it is important to remember that, often, it is a highly useful material.
Creating homes from plastic waste and natural materials is smart: the plastics are sturdy and will stand the test of time, and they can be used over and over again for decades to come.
Criticisms of Ecobricks
Despite their obvious benefits, there are concerns that making external structures from plastic may not be beneficial for the planet. These non-recyclable plastics are made from inorganic chemicals, which may leech into the surrounding environment as the ecobricks are exposed to the sun. This could cause immediate harm to the soil and eventually reach the water table where these chemicals threaten aquatic plant and animal life.
The photodegradation also makes the plastic brittle and susceptible to breaking, thereby releasing micro-plastics into the area: proven to be detrimental to animal and human health. There is criticism that ecobricks do not offer a solution to the plastic problem, and instead is simply delaying dealing with these problems for another few hundred years.
Ecobricks certainly offer a ready-made solution to the immediate problems posed by plastic. They are a hugely powerful tool for cleaning up local areas, educating schools and communities, and creating structures that will stand the test of time.
Further thought should certainly be given to the longevity of the plastics and the potential environmental impacts further down the line. However, ecobricks certainly form a potent reminder of humankind’s poor management of waste and reinforce the need for radical change across the plastic industry.
References and Further Reading