The Bali Ecobrick team visited the Island of Santen this past week. Located on the mouth of a river that flows out into the ocean between the coast of Java and Bali, Indonesia, the community is overloaded with plastic. Mainly a fisher and shell cultivator community, the residents watch in despair as plastic washes to their shore in a never ending flow.
The Ecobrick team had been invited by a youth organization in the adjacent city of Banyuwangi. As we got going ecobricking, one of the first questions to be asked was “Have you done this workshop in the cities?! So much of this plastic is not our own.”
The primary purpose of Ecobricks is to give individuals a way to be deeply responsible for their own plastic. However, given the unique situation of Santen Island, where residents are have soooo much non-community plastic to deal with (well, it’s not that unique– so mainly other coastal regions face the same dilemma) the Ecobrick team decided to focus on the plastic that was collected on the beach 10 meters from the workshop.
Working with the insights of the local fisher folk and community leaders, we finalised a new Ecobrick design concept that we have been working on for the last year in conjunction with Trash Hero Indonesia. Trash Hero, who also collect plastic on the beaches in South East Asia, have also been struggling to find easy applications for their plastic waste. We have partnered with them to experiment with merging ecobricking core concepts and techniques into a new kind of Ecobrick that holds true to our fundamental cradle-to-cradle principles.
Making The Ocean Ecobrick
The Ocean Ecobrick (OEB) is essential two bottles packed with plastic, sealed end to end. By cutting a bottle’s top off, one creates a wide opening for packing large, small, awkward, sandy, and photodegraded plastics of all types. The metalisized plastic from chip wrappers (aluminum oxide which reflects sunlight, and is the slowest plastic to photodegrade) is used to fill the tops and bottoms of the brick. Ecobrickers use a bamboo stick to pack the bottle as full and as solid as possible. Once the bottom is 90% complete, the top is silvered, then packed half full.
A line of silicone is made around the top of the main bottle, and then the top and bottom of the brick are screwed down. Excess silicone is wiped flat to seal the brick from the outside.
The concept is tremendously simple, and allows for the fast and efficient packing of plastic that wouldn’t be fit for a normal Ecobrick. As normal Ecobricks are often used for indoor furniture, the cleanliness of the plastic is crucial. Also, normal Ecobricks are sealed tightly. With dirty plastic, methane gas can form and accumulate inside a sealed brick, which can be dangerous. With the Ocean Ecobrick design, the imperfect silicone seal between the two cut bottles, allows gas to escape, avoiding the dangers of accumulation.
Land: Ocean Ecobicks can then be used for outdoor construction. They can be used with cob mortar or with silicone. The silver top and the bottoms, can be exposed to help reduce the thermal absorption of the structures walls.
Water: Ocean Ecobricks can also be used for floating constructions. The silicone seal will hold the bottles together securely even under water. Even if water seeps into the brick, the concentration of less dense plastic ensure that the Ecobrick will continue to float indefinitely. We recommend that for floating applications that the OB’s be painted, this will ensure that they are not photodegrades through sun exposure. Once OB’s do show signs of degradation, they should be taken out of the construction and used for on-land building in which the bottle is 100% covered and protected from the sun.
Unlike traditional Ecobricks, OEB’s generate waste in their making. Bottles must be cut, and there is not much use for the left over bottle tops. However, in communities like Santen, there is always a vibrant community of recyclers (Pemulung). PET and HDPE are the most sought after plastics. Left over bottle tops will gladly be collected by recyclers.
Ocean Ecobricks are more wasteful, fragile, and more likely to contain dirty plastic, and to generate methane than regular Ecobricks. They also, do not generate consumption consciousness like regular Ecobricks that are dedicated to transforming one’s own personal waste. Ocean Ecobricks are therefore ideal only in the circumstances of communities like Santen that are overloaded with plastic.
The Development Continues
The development and design of the Ocean Ecobrick is still underway. We will return to Santen to explore building projects in several months. Stay posted!