By Nicholas Curry
Construction for the Seed Fund Project that I am working on with Lisa Mak finally started! Working with the Environment Department at the Municipality of Viacha we are trying to address aspects of the two highest environmental concerns stated by the municipality. The two problems that the municipality has named are the lack of trees, and waste management, specifically separating and organizing waste for recycling and composting. Combining these two issues we decided to build a tree nursery at the newly created Punto Verde using recycled materials, specifically focusing on plastic bottles.
The goal of this project is not only to create the physical structure of a tree nursery, while reducing the amount of bottles and plastic on the streets and in the landfill, but to also to create awareness about the importance of waste disposal and separation. Along with the views of the municipality it was very clear to us when entering Viacha and walking around, that waste separation and management are issues that need to be addressed. We hope that through the construction of the nursery, a promotional campaign and a few workshops that we can help alter the actions and views towards waste in the municipality.
The idea for this project started manifesting at music festival in Costa Rica about a year ago when I was helping clean up and noticed that the recycling station was taking plastic bags and stuffing them into plastic bottles. After a brief discussion I found out that these plastic stuffed bottles became extremely durable and could then be used for construction purposes. Who knew that a good idea could come the day after a musical festival. It wasn’t until 8 months later when we were discussing the amount of plastic bottles and bags spread throughout the municipality that this idea would come back into my mind.
There are many different ways of using plastic bottle bricks, commonly refereed to as eco-bricks, as a building material but they can be separated into two main categories: structural or non-structural. I have chosen to talk about the structural purpose because that is how our tree nursery will be using utilizing these eco-bricks in construction. Even within the structural category there are many variables. The most common structural design is using the bottles literally the same as bricks by laying them horizontal and stacking them in rows and filling around these rows with cement or another binding material. What material the bottles are stuffed with also varies from project to project. We haven chosen to use sand to stuff the majority of plastic bottles saving a lot of time in comparison to the plastic stuffed bottles.
In the past couple years some literature has started to appear on the use of eco-bricks for building material. Within the literature there have been many tests conducted to discover the strength, insulation, sound and fire protection of these eco-bricks. In almost all of the test’s the bricks have faired very well, either being comparable or fairing better than traditional building materials with the exception of fire resistance.
Another positive benefit of using eco-bricks is that they are very inexpensive in comparison to regular building materials coming with a little price tag or none at all. However the trade off is that they are very labour intensive and require many hours to create. As Lisa and myself have discovered making these bricks is no easy task and when choosing to build with them this is a factor that must be considered. For this reason the use of eco-bricks can be huge advantage for communities that have little money to spend and lots of people available for labour. On the other hand they can prove to be pretty stressful if there is only two interns and they are working on a tight deadline. Thanks for reading and wish us luck!
- Taaffe, Jonathan, Seán O’Sullivan, Muhammad Ekhlasur Rahman, and Vikram Pakrashi. “Experimental characterisation of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottle Eco-bricks.” Materials & Design 60 (2014): 50. doi:10.1016/j.matdes.2014.03.045.
- Mansour, Ashraf Mansour Habib, and Subhi A. Ali. “Reusing waste plastic bottles as an alternative sustainable building material.” Energy for Sustainable Development 24 (2015): 79. doi:10.1016/j.esd.2014.11.001.