What is an ecobrick?

20 March 2019

There’s more plastic in the ocean than ever before, but plastic production isn’t slowing down. Over 99% of plastics come from chemicals sourced from oil and gas production – contributing massively to climate change.

There are lots of easy ways you can cut down your single-use plastic, but what should you do with the plastic that you can’t avoid? Ecobricks are an ethical way of using up the plastic that can’t be recycled and won’t break down. Here’s everything you need to know about ecobricks.

What is an ecobrick?

An ecobrick is a building block made entirely from unrecyclable plastic. It’s created by filling a plastic bottle with clean, dry plastic until it’s packed tightly and can be used as a building block.

Ecobricks can be used in all sorts of sustainable building projects, which makes them a great way to dispose of plastic waste that would otherwise end up in landfill, and potentially, the ocean.

What are ecobricks used for?

The plastic in an ecobrick is very durable and will never break down, making it an ideal building material. They’re used in developing countries to construct furniture and even buildings, and they’re also used in the UK to build children’s playgrounds.   

In South Africa there are many sustainable construction projects underway, including outdoor classrooms, community gardens and a composting toilet, and in Guatemala there are a number of schools built from the plastic bottle bricks.

What are the advantages of ecobricks?

Ecobricks are a great way to recycle plastic that doesn’t break down and would most likely end up in landfill, or worse, the ocean. But there are lots of other great things about ecobricks:

  • Plastic is actually a very useful material – we’re just producing too much of it and disposing of it in an unsustainable way. The characteristics that make plastic so difficult to dispose of – its durability, longevity and water resistance – also make it a brilliant building material.
  • They encourage you to reduce your plastic waste. As you see how much rubbish you put in an ecobrick, you’ll see how much you’re throwing away. This can help you cut down on what you’re buying and ultimately produce less waste.
  • As well as preventing plastics from ending up in the ocean, ecobricks also save plastic from being incinerated. When plastic is burned, it releases CO2, generating carbon emissions and contributing to global warming.
  • The biggest advantage of ecobricks is that they take something that would otherwise have a negative impact on the environment, and turn it into something that benefits local communities.

How do you make an ecobrick?

  1. Choose a bottle. This is really important because you need to get the perfect bottle to build the perfect ecobrick. The key thing to think about is size. Any size bottle will work as an ecobrick, but the average size tends to be between 500ml to 1.5l. You should also make sure that you’re using a bottle from a product that you use regularly – you don’t want to end up having to buy a plastic bottle just to make an ecobrick!
  2. Prepare your plastic. Any plastic that you put in your brick needs to be clean and dry – any dirt can lead to microbiological growth and methane forming inside your brick. If you put dirty plastic inside your ecobrick it can make the bottle bloat and the cap can even pop off – not to mention it won’t look very nice!
  3. Get a stick. You’ll need a stick to poke the plastic in your bottle down so you can fit as much as possible in! A bamboo or wooden stick will work best, and it should have a rounded tip to make sure it doesn’t pierce the bottle when you are squashing the plastic down.
  4. What not to put in your ecobrick. Remember – the things you put in your ecobrick can’t be recycled or won’t break down, so be sure not to include metal, paper, card, food waste or glass.
  5. Weigh your ecobrick. You need to make sure that your ecobrick is packed as tightly as possible to make it really strong. Bricks that are too soft can’t be used for building because they might not be robust enough. Plus, the more you fit in your bottle, the less plastic will be getting out into the environment! Obviously the weight of your brick depends on the size of your bottle, but as a rough guide a 500ml bottle should weigh around 175g when its full, and a 1.5l bottle should weigh around 500g.
  6. Be careful not to overfill your brick. Although your brick should be packed full of plastic, it shouldn’t be pushing against the lid because it could end up making the lid come off.

What plastics can you put in your ecobrick?

You can put any type of plastic in your brick, but before chucking it in willy-nilly, it’s important to see if that type of plastic can be recycled in your area. The plastic that can be recycled can vary depending on where you live, so it’s worth checking with your local council exactly what they will and won’t accept. Any plastic that they don’t accept can go in your ecobrick.

Here are some of the items you can put in your brick:

  • Plastic bags
  • Photo paper
  • Crisp packets
  • Food containers
  • Straws
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Cling film
  • Plastic fruit and vegetable packaging
  • Polystyrene (or Styrofoam) – this is a petroleum-based product that can’t be recycled. Lots of products are made out of this including food containers and packaging.

Don’t forget that you can always cut up plastic to go in your ecobrick, even if it seems too big.

Can black plastic be recycled?

In short, yes, black plastic can be recycled. However, most local councils don’t actually offer black plastic recycling. This is because it’s quite tricky to sort black plastics from other materials.

The equipment that is used to sort plastic in recycling centres is called near-infrared, so it uses light to sort out the plastics. The near-infrared can’t detect the pigment used to colour the plastic black, so it gets missed and more often than not ends up in landfill.

So should you include black plastic in your ecobrick? Yes – because unless you are 100% sure that your local council can and are recycling black plastic, the chances are that it will end up in the ocean.

Where’s my nearest ecobrick drop off?

There are places you can drop off your finished ecobricks all over the UK – and they use their bricks for various projects in Britain and abroad. Check out the Ecobricks website to see where your nearest ecobrick drop off point is.

Get social

Don’t forget to share photos of your completed ecobricks on social media – they’re a relatively new idea so not many people know about them. Spread the word to your friends and let people know that their plastic doesn’t need to end up in the ocean! 

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with all the latest news from the renewable energy world. For all the latest from our founder, Dale Vince, follow him on Facebook too.

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