Rubbish/garbage/trash/waste …. (whatever you want to call it!) …. is becoming a bigger and bigger problem for us and for the environment. As we continue to waste more and more, we use more natural resources and increase pollution in our world. Plastic pollution (especially of the oceans) is foremost in our minds, but there is an awful lot more to the problem than just plastic.
…… and here is where the Eco-brick comes in!
An Eco-brick is a plastic bottle densely packed with a variety of non-recyclable waste.
Eco-bricks are an exciting way that individuals and communities can reduce the amount of waste that lands up on landfills, and also the errant bits and pieces that land up in our drains, water-courses and ultimately the ocean.
Where did it start?
Various simultaneous pioneers have helped shape the global movement and refine the technology. Susana Heisse an environmental activist around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala in 2004. Susana was inspired by a woman who was building her house with plastic bottles filled with plastic trash; she immediately realized the potential of this building technique for solving a number of challenges faced by the local community. Alvaro Molina began on the island of Ometepe in 2003. The technique builds upon the bottle building techniques developed by German architect Andreas Froese (using sand-filled PET bottles) in South America in 2000. These Eco-Bricks are then used to build schools in South America in order to improve children’s lives and give homeless people a permanent place to stay.
In 2010, in the Northern Philippines, Russell Maier and Irene Bakisan developed a curriculum guide of simplified and recommended practices to help local schools integrate eco-bricks into their curriculum. Applying the ancestral ecological principles of the Igorots for building rice terraces, they integrated Cradle-to-cradle principles into Ecobrick methodology: ensuring that Eco-bricks can be reused at the end of the construction they are used in. Through the Department of Education, the guide distributed to 1700 schools in 2014.
The open source development of Ecobrick best practices and innovations that emerged from the Filipino movement, became the genesis for the Global Ecobrick Alliance in South Africa, Zambia, America, and most recently Indonesia. Movements in South Africa began in 2012 when American Joseph Stodgel brought the concept to the small town of Greyton throwing an annual Trash to Treasure festival.
(Acknowledgments – Wikipedia)
Early in 2018, the ADVA Youth Skills Development (based in Johannesburg) took on Eco-bricks as a community project and are busy building up a storm with their Eco-bricks.
JAEI has partnered with ADVA YSD in the making of the Eco-bricks.
ADVA Youth Skills Development
ADVA YSD upskills youth and young adults to create a ripple for change in their communities
Alison Bentley-Griffiths and volunteers of ADVA
Skills training during and ADVA meeting
Use a 2 litre soft drink bottle bottle (Coke, Sprite, Ginger beer etc)
- Pack the bottle tight, mix plastics as you go – paying special attention to a firmly filled base. With only a single type of plastic (eg. polystyrene) the brick will bee too light.
- Using a dowel stick, compact the plastics/filler around the inside of the bottle and ensure that the entire bottle (right to under the lid) is firm and dense. You should be able to stand on the completed brick without it distorting in any way.
- Weigh the brick – it should be a minimum of 450-500gms
- You will be mind-blown as to just how much “junk” the “brick” takes!!! – just when you think it’s full …. it’s probably only half-way!
What can go into an Eco-brick?
- Cling wrap
- Low-density plastics & vege bags
- Chip packets and sweet wrappers
- Bits of cable tie
- Thread off-cuts and bits of fabric (left after sewing)
- Aluminum foil (make sure it’s rinsed clean)
- Laminated paper
- Wax paper
- Dog/cat food bags
- Anything that can fit into the bottle that is not able to be recycled in the normal way
NB!!! NO biodegradables or wet waste
High-density Plastic (PET  (other than the bottles used for Eco-bricks), HDPE  & LDPE ), paper, glass & tins (metal) should be recycled in the normal way.
ADVA Children of Kingsway School making Eco-bricks
Stash of Eco-bricks
Building a bench at Kingsway School
Inside of the Nursery School stool
Nursery School stool
Future plans of ADVA and their Eco-brick project
- Lots of little stools! …. There are over 40 Nursery Schools/Creches in the area needing seating
- Community/School benches
- Raised food gardens
Noeleen’s tried and tested hacks for making Eco-bricks!
Okay! Now that you have a whole lot of background … here are some of my personal hacks that I have found useful …
- Invest in 2 lengths of dowel sticks of about 70-80cm long – one 1cm & the other 2cm thick. The 1cm rod is great for pushing waste into the bottle, and helping in distributing it around evenly, and the thicker one is great for the compacting of the waste.
- When starting your brick, make sure that the base is well and truly full and packed REALLY tight! This is super important!
- If you can’t get your piece of plastic (or whatever) into the bottle, cut it up into smaller pieces. This is especially useful for pet food and some of the cereal bags.
- Mix your plastics and other “junk” (your sweet wrappers, chip packets, tablet blister packs, bits of foil and whatever……. I do a lot of needlework using bits of felt and there are always bits of felt, fabric and cotton threads left that I also stuff into my bricks as well.) This is really important, as only using one type of plastic (especially the polystyrene) will not give you the required density or weight. Remember, each brick must weigh between 450 and 600 gms.
- After each layer, really use a good deal of force to pack the waste in. You’ll be absolutely mind-blown as to how much can actually fit into that bottle! When you think you are nearly done … you’re probably about halfway! Using a good amount of force is really great for taking out any frustrations that you have and putting your frustrations to good use!!
- When you absolutely can’t get any more into your bottle – check that there are no “soft spots” – spaces where there’s no filler and try and rectify. Weigh your brick and make sure that is more than 450g. Now, stand on it – the “brick” should not distort in any way – it should be absolutely solid! …. That is a good brick!
- Paper isn’t a good filler – a) because it can be recycled in other ways, and b) it’s far too light.
- A lot of people have asked where they can get the empty bottles if they don’t normally drink fizzy drinks. A couple of ideas …..
- Ask family, friends and work colleagues to save theirs for you
- I know of someone who buys the empty bottles from Waste Pickers
- Another friend does a lot of walking, and collects them from gutters etc
- At St Mike’s, Weltevreden Park – we have an “eco-brick” bin for completed bricks, and anyone who has spare empty bottles leave them in the bin for others to take – works a charm!
Drop off points
- Diocesan Centre
- Home of Alison Griffiths – 3 Pieter Road, Robin Hills, Randburg. (On the left of the gate is a bamboo fence – just toss them over the wall)
- Netcare Faculty of Emergency Medicine, Midrand (They are just off Allandale road in Riverview Office Park on Janadel Road.)
- EWT Head Office – Building K2, Pinelands Office Park, Ardeer Road, Modderfontein.
- Modderfontein Reserve – Arden Road, Modderfontein
- Friends of Free Wildlife – 193, 1 Maple Road, Kyalami
- Eden College Lyndhurst – 48 Johannesburg Road, Lyndhurst
- The Biodiversity Company – 420 Vale Avenue, Ferndale (close to Malibongwe Road)