Ecobricks are 100% Cradle-to-Cradle
Ecobrick Techniques Apply the Principles of Circular Design
One of the fundamental principles of Ecobricking is of circular, cradle-to-cradle, design. Ecobricks leverage the resilient properties of plastic to create reusable building blocks. When we build with ecobricks we plan for the end of the application and for next life of every ecobrick.
It’s a fact of life: everything comes to its end. Alas, the vast majority of the products we use today go from their birth in a factory, into our hands, to their grave– which is always someplace within the Earth’s biosphere. Pollution is the result. Designs that fail to anticipate and plan for the end of a product are known as cradle-to-grave.
With ecobricks, we do things differently! Learning from the way ecologies infinitely and perfectly cycle nutrients over and over, we aspire to similar indefinitely cycling. In other words, we make and we use ecobricks using tehcniques that anticipate their next life cycle. Instead of the straight line of cradle-to-grave, we draw a circle. We make sure our ecobricks go from one “cradle” (usage/life/build/application) to the next, to the next with minimal energy and waste. This is known as cradle-to-cradle design.
The cradle-to-cradle design principle underlies every ecobrick method that the GEA endorses. This way we ensure that every ecobrick remains a reusable building block. This circular design ethic also helps guide the way that we make ecobricks and the GEA recommended ecobricking techniques.
- This is the reason that when we start an ecobrick we put a colored plastic on the bottom: we’re thinking of the next phase when we’ll build with it.
- This is why we use silicone and not glue when we attach ecobricks to make modules– so that when the module/chair/table comes to its end, we can take it apart to use the ecobricks again.
- This is the reason we build with earth rather than with cement– so that when our bench, garden or home comes to its end, we can extricate the ecobricks undamaged, and put them to use again.
Part of Cradle-to-Cradle design also includes minimizing the amount of energy and waste produced in the cycling process. This is where the other ecobrick principles come in! By ensuring that our methods use local resources, are non-capital, non-petroleum, and community-collaboration powered we minimize the amount of plastic, C02, transportation, and energy required in the cycling. In this ayyew-way, we’re always striving for tighter and tigher cycling to maximize the regenerative potential of our ecobrick applications.
- This is why we avoid using tape or plastic glue in joining ecobricks– it results in excess waste when the module comes to its end and the ecobricks are reused.
- This is why we encourage ecobrick Earth Building— the crumbled cob that results at the end of a construction can return to the earth without any problem.
- Dented ecobricks crack and break much faster over time. Studies have show that dented/stressed plastic is significantly more susceptible to photo-degradation and weakening than undamaged plastic.
- Soft and squishy ecobricks will bend and dent. They do not hold up weight when used in modules. They are more susceptible to handling and weight damage in earth constructions. Consequently they degrade faster.
- Low density ecobricks are most often soft and squishy and usually have air pockets which raises their flammability risk.
- Labelled ecobricks collect dirt and grime more easily. The labels tend to fade over time, reducing their aesthetic. The lables also interfere with siliconing when making modules.
- We’ve observe that ecobricks with bottom colors are usually well made as the adding of a bottom color inspires makers to think of the upcoming usage of the ecobrick.
The principles of circular design are perhaps best embodied by ecobrick modules. Milstein Modules can be used to build horizontally while Dieleman Lego Modules can build both horizontally and vertically. Modules are designed to fit together to build everything from tables and stages to interactive playgrounds. And when the table, stage or playground comes to its end, the modules can be taken apart, stored and used again.
Modules are made with silicone sealant or cut inner tubes ensuring ecobricks are strongly attached. However when the module comes to its end, the ecobricks can be cut off and used again. Silicone is different from plastic in that it doesn’t degrade into toxins and inner tubes are 100% recycled.
It is important to use these modules as indoor furniture. Ecobricks themselves should never be exposed to the sun. Ultra violet (UV) rays will gradually photo-degrade the plastic bottle. After only two or three years, the brittle bottle will crack and burst, releasing all our hard packed plastic! Ecobrick modules made from tube-bands are even more susceptible to UV degradation. The tube bands, if left in the sun, will degrade in under one month.
Ecobrick & Earth Building
The easiest earth and ecobrick applications are benches, gardens and playgrounds. Ecobricks are laid horizontally in cob mortar. The result is a thick, sturdy construction with the cob mortar completing encasing the ecobricks to protect them from UV sunlight (with the optional exception of the coloured bottom of the ecobrick).
Protected from UV rays and the elements the ecobrick is thus secured from degradation. Because cob is relatively easy to crumble (as compared to concrete) ecobricks can be extricated from the cob 5 years or 100 years into the future — and then reused!
Avoiding Ecobricks and Concrete
The GEA strongly advises against using ecobricks with concrete as mortar. When conrete sets, it shrinks around the ecobrick, holding it solid and fast. The constriction is such that when the construction comes to its end, it is impossible to extricate the ecobrick without the stiff, sharp cement rupturing the soft PET bottle. Although it may seem that a cement structure has safely contained the ecobricks, the truth is that we are simply passing the plastic problem into the future.
Ecobrickable Design & Designator Symbol
An exciting extension of the cradle-to-cradle principle, is the GEA’s work developing the Ecobrickable Designator Kit. As ecobricks are essentially a catch-all for dead-end-plastic, they present an exciting and easy transitional solution for product designs. Ecobricks allow designers to take their first step to cradle-to-cradle design. With a little forethought and advance planning, their product can be made easily and effectively Ecobrickable. This design direction, falls within the transition of a company to full regenerative principles.
- Learn more about Ecobrickable Design
- Learn more about our Company Catalyst Program
- Purchase and Download the Ecobrickable Designator Kit
Circular design is just one of the nine principles guiding the ecobrick movement and GEA best practices. Read more about our principles and cradle-to-cradle building techniques…
“If we think about things having multiple lives, cradle to cradle, we could design things that can go back to either nature or back to industry forever… The Stone Age did not end because humans ran out of stones. It ended because it was time for a re-think about how we live.“
– William McDonough
Get the Designator Kit
Transition your company's product to circular principles by applying Ecobrickable Design. The Designator File Kit will get you started!
An Introduction to Bottle Building
For a comprehensive introduction to the the theory and techniques of bottle building, download our free, open source construction guide.