As the saying goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. It is not by chance that similar bywords exist in almost every other language, since many innovative solutions come indeed to light in times of generalized crises: for example, the trueque (barter) markets during the Argentinean corralito. Transforming plastic waste into building bricks is another good illustration of these innovations forced by need.
Plastic pollution has a broad list of negative impacts – including limiting food production and affecting ecosystems and social-wellbeing. We know as well that everyday life seems to be more and more expensive: from a bag of fresh tomatoes to the utilities bill and to the very place we call home (see our recent post about the global housing crisis). With this panorama, coming up with a way of using plastic bottle waste to make building bricks sounds awesome. These sort of bottle-bricks are usually called ‘ecobrick’ or ecoladrillo (in Spanish) and are basically plastic bottles packed solid with trash -ideally non-biodegradable waste. That’s because apart from being used as an affordable, accessible, and reusable building material, ecobricks act as net-zero means of plastic sequestration. As the Global Ecobrick Alliance (GEA) explains, these bricks keep plastic from degrading into toxins and microplastics into the biosphere – which refers to all living organisms and their environments, whether they are in the oceans, the air or the soil. But not just out of the ecosystems: the ecobricks are meant also to keep plastic out of high-energy, high-emission industrial processes. That’s why, to make sure that they maintain plastic sequestered over time, the GEA has developed building guidelines, standards and principles for the making of ecobricks. For example, among other criteria, they must be created by a not-for-profit process, and they must result in more plastic and CO2 being subtracted from the biosphere than was added by the process of making the bricks. Another important aspect is the manual ecobricking process, which helps raise awareness of the consequences of consumption and the dangers of plastic.
The applications of the ecobricks range from home furniture, to gardens and playgrounds equipment to bigger structures, like this house in Bolivia. Or ‘earthbenches’, as the ones the organisation Peace On Earthbench Movement (POEM) promotes, while empowering youth to repurpose their trash into a building material to create a communal gathering area. Even a cryptocurrency has come out of the ecobricks movement. Unlike other tokens, Brikcoins (BRK / ß) are generated by human work and are based on ecological value, as they correlate directly with plastic that has been prevented from polluting the environment and permanently removed from high-emissions industries.