MORE ON ECOBRICKS AND THE FIGHT AGAINST SINGLE USE PLASTICSPosted on the 1st July 2019
This article forms part of our contribution to the International Plastics Free July campaign.
In the first article on handy hints to reduce one’s household waste stream we highlight the making of Ecobricks. The Ecobrick movement has gained a huge following throughout the world. Find details on how to get started in producing Ecobricks at www.ecobrick.com The Endangered Wildlife Trust has also become involved in this. I accept that a lot of criticism is being levelled at Ecobricks, but believe that we should try our best to beat the plastic monster.
In this description I will give a brief overview of Ecobricks and how these can be produced followed by a description of problems that I have experienced in producing my own Ecobricks. It is hoped that this will inspire many members and friends to become involved by sharing practical information on how to do it.
|First successful attempts at Ecobricking|
|The one litre brick took 6 and the two litre brick 13 of these bags of plastic and other non-recyclables.|
What is an Ecobrick? It is a 500ml, 1 litre, 2 litre or 5 litre plastic cool-drink or water bottle compacted to capacity with non-recyclable material. In our case here in Hermanus we now also use recyclable material due to the recycling system collapsing. At least we will prevent some recyclable material going landfill. Material to be used include bread packets, cellophane, cereal packets, chips packets, chocolate wrappers, cling wrap, dog and cat food pellet packets, foil packets, plastic bags and packets, plastic or foil packaging for pills and medication, polystyrene trays and containers, etc, etc. It is very important that all material need to be CUT UP INTO FAIRLY SMALL PIECES and that it should be CLEAN AND DRY. NO SAND IS TO BE USED. Your Ecobrick therefore becomes your alternative dustbin.
You further need items to compact the material with – it obviously should be able to fit into the bottle neck and needs to be longer than the bottle. The photograph herewith illustrates the types of items that I found to be most practical. And then you need to start compacting and compacting and compacting and compacting ………….. There should not be any air gaps in the bottle as you are producing a brick substitute. A 500ml brick should weigh at least 200g, a 1 litre brick must weigh at least 350g and a 2 litre bottle-brick must at least 500g. The bottles must have its lids on.
|Tools of the trade: From left: The back of a feather duster works well to compact stuff at the bottom and withdraws easily without bringing plastic back to the top; the same applied to the back of a "houtlepel"; a knitting needle and thin wooden item work well to compact stuff from the side of the bottle downwards.|
These "bricks" are used throughout the world to build classrooms, bus stops, benches, you name it. Keep in mind that it also saves natural resources by substituting clay bricks. These Ecobricks are bone hard once compacted tightly and are nearly impossible to break. We deliver our bricks to the People n Planet campaign of Pick n Pay in Cape Town. They use it to build herb and vegetable plant boxes at a community development project where they feed 200 children per day. Look for organisations using Ecobricks in your area and start your production line.
ANTON’S ECOBRICK DISASTERS AND LESSONS
So, a while ago I started with my first one litre Coke bottle, much to the amusement and often sarcasm from Elaine: “You’re crazy”. “Will get bored”. “Will lose patience”, and so on. My first mistake was removing the label on the bottle – it is very difficult to get the glue off the bottle and a very sticky affair as one handles the bottle continually – remove it afterwards. Then, those “nipples” at the bottom of the bottle need to be compacted until bone hard before you add layer after layer of plastics and other material. My bottle was compacted really hard at the top, but I could not get to the bottom to remove the air bubbles. (An ordinary knitting needle sorted this problem out later). It was not even close to the prescribed target weight, with the result that I cut the bottle open and started with the next one.
This time I got the “nipples” really hard and Elaine suggested that we cut strips of those glossy junk advertisements from the newspapers, fold it up and put into the bottle. Big mistake – these and things such as folded chip packets do not compact and invariably (and frustratingly) come back to the top as one compresses the other stuff. Also, there is no way that you can get it out of the bottle. Clearly such objects need to be cut up into small pieces. Thus, I had to cut open the bottle and start again.
My third attempt at compacting a one litre plastic bottle has become, what I believe, could be a lethal weapon. It is bone hard and I’m sure that I’ll crack the skull of an attacker with it. It is well over the target weight of 350 gram. Lots of lessons were also learnt with the objects that one uses to compact the plastics – I give suggestions in the photograph above. Use something, such as a thin item (or knitting needle) to compact the plastic from the side of the bottle downwards and then force the stuff in the middle down with a heavy item like a wooden spoon. Most importantly, one needs to use stuff that one can swivel and bring back to the top without the plastic coming back with it.
Another important lesson: Polystyrene seems to be significantly lighter than plastics. Three of my attempts came to nothing as I used too much polystyrene and did not even get close to the target weight for the bottle being filled. I recommend that nothing more than 15% of the contents of your Ecobrick should consist of polystyrene.
We, with the help of many friends, have now completed 170 two litre bottles successfully. Why am I so chuffed with all of this? I am fighting plastic pollution and do this while watching rugby, soccer, the news or even movies, for that matter. BUT, we have reduced our weekly black municipal refuse bag by more than 50% and we have now technically taken the recycle bag out of play as it is not being used anymore. AND we are contributing to the reduction of waste going to the landfill site and the general refuse stream. This has become so effective in our houshold that we now had to ask neighbours and friends to start collecting plastics for our Ecobricks! Most importantly those 170 bottles mean that we have taken at least 85 kg of plastic waste out of the waste stream!
Other features in this series will look at other ways of addressing the evil of single use plastics and other household waste. Come on, be a devil and give Ecobricks a bash. A word of caution: Many participants state that the making of Ecobricks become somewhat addictive.