Plastic Bricks — They Could Be a Game Changer

Plastic is Killing The Environment

Do you know how long plastic takes to decompose? 500 long years is how long it takes for some plastics to decompose, that’s 500 years of plastic lying in the streets, your garden or landfill sites. (Gounder, 2021). On top this incredibly lengthy decomposition time, plastic is responsible for 90% of all the waste that is currently in our seas and oceans, which will never fully break down, but will instead it will end up as very small particles polluting things such as the seas we swim in, the soils we grow our plants in and the air that we breath (Expert Skip Hire, 2018). Plastics cannot be broken down as materials typically need to contain organic compounds so they can be broken down by microbes (things like bacteria) or UV light. The manufacturing process of most plastics makes them unrecognisable to nature by creating strong chemical bonds that cant be broken down (Gounder, 2021).

Tackling The Scourge of Plastic in The Oceans Is a Must (africasustainabilitymatters.com)

Concrete isn’t helping

Plastic is not the only thing responsible for damaging the environment. The production of cement ranks 3rd in the world for producing man-made CO2 after transport and energy generation (Green Spec, 2022), and as we know CO2 is one of the greenhouse gasses contributing to climate change. The way cement is made emits CO2 in 2 different ways. To create cement limestone (CO3) is heated to 10000C, which requires fossil fuels to be burnt to fuel the machines, releasing CO2. The second way, and biggest contributor, is that the limestone is broken down into lime (CaO) and carbon dioxide (CO2) (Alcock, 2014). Cement is commonly used in construction, as cement forms the base for most modern mortars (the material used to join bricks together). This is because cement is extremely durable and strong, making it a good product to stick your house together with.

How concrete production can help or hurt our environment — Futurity

Is there a way to combat both problems in one go?

Yes, there is. That is where plastic bricks come in. Plastic bricks utilise waste plastic, whilst eliminating the need for harmful building materials such as concrete. In Nairobi, Kenya a 29 year old woman named Nzambi Matee founded a company that turns waste plastic from factories into blocks used for paving (The Kid Should See This, 2020). This is done by mixing the plastic with sand, heating it and then pressing it into blocks. As plastic is a fibrous material, it has a larger compressive strength than concrete- meaning you can put more weight on it before it breaks. On top of being stronger than concrete the plastic blocks are also half the weight, which results in a faster installation time, and is more cost effective when transporting. Another pro of these blocks is that the price of manufacturing them is also very low because the plastic is sourced from factories who have to pay to dispose of their waste (The Kid Should See This, 2020). It’s a win for the factories- no disposal cost — a win for the communities — fresh new pavements — and a win for the environment — less waste plastic polluting the earth.

Recycling plastic waste to make bricks that are stronger than concrete | The Kid Should See This

Why stop at pavements

Plastic blocks aren’t limited to pavements, they can also be used to build structures. This is exactly what Precious Plastic in Norway have been working on. They’ve designed a brick made from 100% recycled plastic that can be used to build structures (Recycle Rebuild, 2020). Their first prototype was similar to a standard brick, solid in the middle. The problem with this brick is that unlike Nzambi Matee in Kenya, the bricks were being produced from waste material that had to be collected and sorted, instead of delivered straight from a factory, which was costly at 1Euro per Kg of plastic (Recycle Rebuild, 2020). The final solution is something like a giant Lego brick that we are all familiar with. It has interlocking teeth which allows structures to be built quickly in any location, with little to no need for skilled labourers — all you need is a hammer. The nature of the interlocking teeth also makes the structure very strong, as well as the hollow nature of them helping with insulation as air is a good insulator (helps hold the heat in).

Recycled Brick | Recycle Rebuild

The possibilities are endless

Plastic bricks are a great alternative to concrete blocks in developing countries. They can be used to build, pavements, roads wash facilities and many more things. But the use of plastic bricks doesn’t need to stop at developing countries. Structures can be easily and quickly built, as well as demolished and relocated, meaning they are a great option for emergency shelter for victims of natural disasters, as well as the homeless. Plastic bricks help prevent harmful CO2 emissions, they recycle a product responsible for the majority of the waste in our oceans, and they help people when it is really needed. They are a great innovative technology, with great potential.

Alcock, J., 2014. The Green Age. [Online]
Available at: https://www.thegreenage.co.uk/article/concrete-is-bad-for-the-environment/#:~:text=Cement%20acts%20as%20a%20hydraulic%20binding%20material%2C%20hardening,approximately%205%25%20of%20annual%20anthropogenic%20global%20CO2%20production.
[Accessed February 2022].

Expert Skip Hire, 2018. Expert Skip Hire — Plastic Bricks Made From Used Water Bottles. [Online]
Available at: https://www.expertskiphire.co.uk/plastic-bricks
[Accessed January 2022].

Gounder, S., 2021. ETSUS — How Long Does It Take For Plastic To Decompose?. [Online]
Available at: https://etsus.co/how-long-does-it-take-for-plastic-to-decompose/
[Accessed January 2022].

Green Spec, 2022. The Environmental Impacts of Concrete. [Online]
Available at: https://www.greenspec.co.uk/building-design/environmental-impacts-of-concrete/#:~:text=Cement%20and%20global%20warming%201%20Making%20cement%20results,is%20caused%20by%20cement%20production.%20More%20items...%20
[Accessed February 2022].

Recycle Rebuild, 2020. Recycled Brick. [Online]
Available at: https://www.recyclerebuild.org/recycledbrick
[Accessed February 2022].

The Kid Should See This, 2020. Recycling plastic waste to make bricks that are stronger than concrete. [Online]
Available at: https://thekidshouldseethis.com/post/recycling-plastic-waste-to-make-bricks-that-are-stronger-than-concrete
[Accessed January 2022].

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