Why Make Ecobricks?
Why bother with the hard work of ecobricking plastic?
Plastic is an amazing material with incredible properties — it is a shame for it go to waste. When plastic does go to “waste’; it contaminates the ecosystems that sustain us and our fellow species. Ecobricks enable plastic to be secured our of industry and the biosphere. Ecobricking itself is an onramp to regenerative living and the road of plastic and petro-capital transition.
Ecobricks are pretty simple, but there are a lot of big ideas behind them. Basically ecobricks enable enable anyone, anywhere to put the potentially problematic properties of plastic to good use. Even better than that, the manual, hands-on, and fundamentally local process of ecobricking gets us thinking. The awareness that grows puts us on a road towards to consuming and using plastic wisely. In fact, ecobricking points us towards transcending plastic all together and getting back to ways of living that are in deep harmony with the cycles of life. With ecobricks as building blocks we can then literally start building our more beautiful communities. Read on as we break down ‘Why Ecobrick’ into the twelve main reasons…
1. Plastic is too Amazing a Material to be Wasted
Love it or hate, there’s no denying that plastic is unique! Plastic is made from petroleum and natural gas. These are the result of a process that takes hundreds of millions of years to transform ancient forests and algae into petroleum under the earth. Crude oil and natural gas are extracted from the earth, refined, and turned into fuels. The petrochemical byproducts of this process are then used to make plastics. Plastic itself is the result of a century of focused human innovation to create such miraculous things as photographic film, water-fast containers and all sorts of devices that enable our modern life.
For the last decades, the unique properties of plastic have been used more and more by large corporations to further their global business. Plastic has served the global corporations to make cheap products they can ship around the world. Meanwhile local communities and biospheres have had to pay the full price of the resulting plastic left to go to waste.
With ecobricks we have a chance to turn this all around. Ecobricks enable us to put plastic (and all its good properties) to the benefit of local communities and ecosystems. With ecobricks, we use the characteristics of plastic that were once so problematic – longevity, durability and water fastness, and instead put it to practical and green use. Be sure to read on about the short and long term applications of ecobricks.
2. Ecobricks Secure Plastics from Contaminating the Biosphere
Plastics that are not properly contained break down and contaminate the biosphere. Plastics degrade to the extent that their surface area is exposed – in particular to the sun, water and friction. Alas the majority of non-recyclable single use plastics are sheets and films with large surface areas and are highly susceptible to degradation . Plastic that is burned or incinerated, releases toxic gases into the biosphere.(2) When plastic is left in the sun it photodegrades into smaller and smaller particles, know as microplastics. (3) Recent studies have also shown that photodegradation of plastic emits greenhouse gases, methane and ethylene..(4) All this disrupts ecological cycles. (1)
Ecobricking allows the sequestration of plastic– the long term retention and control of materials that in all other eventualities degrade and contaminate. – Ecobrick & Brikcoin Whitepaper
Ecobricks make use of the very problem (longevity and durability) to secure plastic. By packing plastic into a bottle, the net surface area of the plastic is reduced a thousandfold. This terminal minimization of net exposed surface area means that the plastic is effectively and indefinitely kept safe from all forms of potential degradation. Furthermore, by applying cradle-to-cradle building techniques, the ecobrick can be reused over and over.(5) In particular, the GEA encourages the use of ecobricks in earth constructions to build local green spaces, or earthen walls (6) as a mean to keep them safe from the main forms of potential degradation.(7) See our section on Long-term / Indefinite ecobrick application below.
Ecobricks, in this way, replicate nature’s system of sequestration in which prehistoric carbon-laden biomass was stored under the earth. Thus keeping the hydrocarbons out of the atmosphere, stabilizing climate and gifting future eras. In the same way, ecobricks in earthen construction, enable us to indefinitely secure plastic and its hydrocarbons from becoming toxins, microplastics or from reaching the atmosphere as C02. We estimate that for each 1 Kg of ecobricked plastic, 3.1Kg of CO2 is sequestered.(8) Of course, it is important to build properly with ecobricks to prevent degradation. Download and follow our building principles and techniques when using Ecobricks: The Vision Ecobrick Construction Guide.
Our ecobricks– their sequestration service and the actual concentrated material– are a gift for future generations and eras. In the future people may put our plastic to use in ways we could never imagined, but if it’s scattered all about, we’re leaving them some big problems to clean up.
(1)Webb, Arnott, Crawford and Ivanova, ‘Plastic Degradation and Its Environmental Implications with Special Reference to Poly(ethylene terephthalate),’, (Faculty of Life and Social Sciences)
(2)Rinku Verma, K. S. Vinoda, M. Papireddy, A.N.S Gowda, Toxic Pollutants from Plastic Waste- A Review, College of Sericulture, Chintamani, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, India, December 2016
(4) Sarah-Jeanne Royer, Sara Ferrón, Samuel T. Wilson, David M. Karl, ‘Production of methane and ethylene from plastic in the environment‘, (Published: August 1, 2018)
(7)It is worth noting that plastic is also highly resistant to microbial degradation: “Plastics are resistant against microbial attack, since during their relatively short time of presence in nature, evolution has not yet design new enzyme structures capable of degrading synthetic polymers” Polyethylene and biodegradable mulches for agricultural applications: a review, p 510, Subrahmaniyan Kasirajan & Mathieu Ngouajio, 12 January 2012
(8)Assuming a 95% petro-combustible and photodegradeable plastic content in an ecobrick. Calculated on the approximate weight ratio for carbon to carbon dioxide of 12 to 44.
3. Ecobricking Inspires Ecological Consciousness.
For those who make Ecobricks, they know it is a laborious task– it can take hours of dedicated work and a large sack of plastic to make a single 1.5L ecobrick! The process is inherently meditative. It lends itself towards existential reflection on each piece of “trash” being stashed. It gets Ecobrickers reflecting: Where did this plastic coffee sachet come from? Where is it going? Why is it here? Where will it be in 100 years? Would it be better to just grow my own coffee?
By enabling individuals to take personal responsibility for their plastic consumption, the manual process of ecobricking compels a direct interaction with one’s consumed plastic. The meditative and communal aspect of ecobricking brings about what we call ecological consciousness.(1) Ecobrickers tend to pursue more information about waste disposal in their community, plastic, recycling and ecobricking topics. This leads to a steady decrease in the ecobricker’s net plastic consumption. Ecobrickers also tend to put their ecobricks to use in ways that embody cradle-to-cradle principles, exploring regenerative technologies and organic materials (building composters, gardens and food forests). The GEA emphasizes these principles and technologies, in particular the use of ecobricks for local, organic, non-capital earth building.
“A problem has never been solved by the same consciousness that generated it.”
– Albert Einstein
To honour future generations and other species, we must begin by thinking of them. Ecobricks provide an invaluable spark to such reflection (this very article and your reading of it is an example of this). Ecobricks become a catalyst to envisioning one’s lifestyle in deeper harmony with the circles of life.
1 Edmund O’Sullivan and Marilyn M. Taylor, Learning Toward an Ecological Consciousness, 2004, Palgrave Macmillan, p.30 “…responsible global citizenship requires not only a new social and ecological imagination but a shift in consciousness itself—a transformed way of understanding and construing reality. We have to change our minds—as individuals and as a culture.” The GEA defines ecological consciousness to as the awareness of our interconnection to the cycles of life.
4. Ecobricks Save Plastic from Industrial Recycling
When plastic is “Recycled”, it re-enters a globally distributed industrial system that consumes large amounts of energy and relies on humans working in toxic conditions. In addition, all plastics that enter this system eventually get churned out into the biosphere.
Contrary to common belief, recycled plastic does not get recycled into the same kind of plastic. When used plastic is melted down into a base pellet for reuse, it’s rarely into the same category of plastic it was first. For example, a plastic PET bottle isn’t recycled into another PET bottle, but into a lower form of plastic, with less value. Worn, dirty and broken the plastic can only be down-cycled into a form of plastic with less value. Because of the lower value, the likelihood of this being recycled is reduced with each cycle of the “Recycling”. With each “cycle” the chances of the plastic being dumped or leaked into the biosphere increases. Inevitably, all plastic in the Industrial recycling system will end up in the biosphere.
Ecobricks enable citizens to take plastic out of the industrial recycling system, which thereby keeps it out of the biosphere and saves energy.
Furthermore, the industrial recycling system bounces plastic around the globe in a high energy journey. Plastic gets bought and consumed in America, then shipped to Germany for processing, then back to Asia for re-manufacturing. This journey involves massive shipping containers, trucks, boats, factories and more.
The nodes on this journey, factories, recycling sorting plants and superstores, push humans into jobs that are often completely cut off from the outside world (lacking in sunshine, fresh air, fresh water and fresh food) and instead into noisy, chemically-intense locations for long shifts. In many countries, “trash pickers” labour under the hot sun in noxious dump sites to process and sort plastics for “recycling”.
In contrast, Ecobricks help put a stop to the downward Industrial spiral by simply removing it from this global system. Instead ecobricks keep plastic local– thus saving energy and cutting our support of inhumane working conditions.
Read more: Recycling: The Evil Illusion
5. Ecobricks Save Plastic from Incineration & Sequester CO2
Ecobricking is a simple and easy way to ensure that one’s plastic is not burned informally or incinerated industrially — both of which, to varying degrees, release C02 and toxins into the atmosphere and encourage the continuation of plastic production. Ecobricks are used locally by households and enable communities to avoid participating in the industrial process and petro-capital economy.
The burning of plastic, whether on the side of the street or in an industrial incinerator, causes many problems. Varying levels of toxic chemicals, ash and emission gases are formed(1) depending on the temperature and presence of oxygen during combustion. Plastic packaging burned in the open releases 2.9 Mt CO2e of green-house gases into air per ton of plastic packaging (4). Despite filtering technologies to treat the toxic substances produced, industrial incineration can still release harmful gases into the atmosphere (2) and results in the release of CO2. According to the May 2019 report ‘Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet’, plastic incineration poses a “growing and alarming addition of CO2 to the enviroment”. Center for International Environmental Law, calculates that one ton of industrially incinerated plastic releases a minimum of 0.9 Mt of net CO2e emissions (even after taking into account the electricity generated by the combustion process.(3)
The incineration of plastic is also the antithesis of a circular or regenerative economy. Industrial incineration entrenches societies into a dependence on waste generation that diverts waste away from industrial recyling (5) and regenerative local re-purposing. In cities such as Singapore and Tokyo where incineration is implemented, citizen segregation of materials has dropped to near zero.(6) Critics observe that incineration minimizes citizen participation and decreases public ecological consciousness. Incineration provides no mitigating incentives for reducing the consumption or usage of plastic. Incineration is, by default, a linear system and does not assist the transition away from plastic or to a circular economy of cycled resources.
In contrast, by packing plastic into a bottle to make an ecobrick, we keep plastic from being burned or degraded. When ecobricked, the net surface area of all the plastic packed is reduced by a factor of thousands – proportionately reducing the UV exposure. The density of a packed ecobrick (typically between 30-40g/ml) also makes it very difficult for an ecobrick to catch fire. When used in an earth and ecobrick construction, ecobricks are completely encased and there is no chance for UV, heat or frictional degradation.(7) The plastic’s C02 is effectively sequestered indefinitely — just as untapped oil beneath the Earth is a natural storage of C02.
In particular, the use of ecobricks in earth constructions to build local green spaces, or earthen walls is encouraged by the GEA(8). Ecobrick and Earth Building serves to keep plastic secure from the main forms of potential degradation. This sequestration service and the actual concentrated material are likewise a gift for future generations and eras.
We estimate that for each 1 Kg of ecobricked plastic, 3.1Kg of CO2 is sequestered.(9)On average one 600ml ecobrick will sequester 0.62kg of CO2 and a 1.5L ecobrick will sequester 4.6Kg of CO2.
(1) National Research Council (US) Committee on Health Effects of Waste Incineration, Incineration Processes and Environmental Releases. Waste Incineration & Public Health. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000. 3. Plastic is made from petroleum molecules, which are made from oil. The burning of plastic (globally one of the most common forms of plastic disposal) generates 3.1Kg of C02 per 1Kg of plastic. When plastic is left in the sun, C02 is also released in the photo-degradation process. The release of C02 is one of the major causes of global warming.
(3) Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet, Center for International Environmental Law, May 2019, p58
(4) Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet, Center for International Environmental Law, 70, May 2019, p64
(5) Harriet Parke, Sophie Crossette, Dr Dominic Hogg,Residual Waste Infrastructure Review (12th Issue), 7th August 2017
(6) Robin Hicks, Can Singapore Really be a Zero-Waste Nation?, Eco Business, Tuesday 29 January 2019 “Singapore reuses barely any of its waste. Of the 800 million kilograms of plastic waste generated last year, 94 per cent was incinerated.”
(7) Subrahmaniyan Kasirajan & Mathieu Ngouajio, Polyethylene and biodegradable mulches for agricultural applications: a review, p 510, 12 January 2012. It is worth noting that plastic is also highly resistant to microbial degradation: “Plastics are resistant against microbial attack, since during their relatively short time of presence in nature, evolution has not yet design new enzyme structures capable of degrading synthetic polymers”
(9) Assuming a 95% petro-combustible and photodegradeable plastic content in an ecobrick. Calculated on the approximate weight ratio for carbon to carbon dioxide of 12 to 44.
6. Ecobricks Empower Households, Communities & Companies
For a long time now we have relied on outside companies, corporations and government programs to take care our their plastic. As news spreads that these ‘waste management’ methods are failing to solve plastic, ecobricks are a way to reclaim personal responsibility for one’s ‘waste’. Ecobricks are designed from the ground up as a principled, people powered solution. In this way ecobricks can re-empower individuals, households, communities and companies to take full responsibility for their plastic.
Ecobricking, inspired by our regenerative principles, is a low-tech, non-capital, manual technology. Our methods and best practices are intentionally design so that that no special skills, no machines, no factories, no finances, nor political permission are required to get going. In this way, individuals can start right this moment to take charge of their plastic: all that is needed is a plastic bottle and a stick!
The GEA has developed a key performance indicator to quantify and track plastic transition for individuals and groups. As ecobricks enable us to secure more than just our own plastic, we can transition from waste, to zero-waste, to waste-postive (or ayyew). One’s placement on this contiunuum is measured by the Plastic Transition Ratio. Ecobricks thus empower transcending waste altogether by moving into regenerative living.
Ecobricks are unique in enabling this level of empowerment for individual, communities and companies alike.
7. Ecobricks Transition to Circular, Regenerative Living
Ecobricks and all the applications on our site, are fundamentally Cradle-to-Cradle. This means, that the next life of the ecobrick is planned into the creation that we make out of them.
Everything comes to its end. Alas, pollution is caused by short sighted thinking: not planning the end into a product design. 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. This is a particular problem with plastic, as it long outlives the product’s usage. Pollution is the result.
With ecobricks, we do things differently. Learning from the endless cycles of life, we use ecobricks in a way that anticipates their next cycle. Instead of a straight line of cradle to grave, we can draw a circle. We can make sure our ecobricks go from one cradle to the next, to the next. This is the spirit behind ecobrick modules and LEGO. This is the concept behind the minimal use of cob in ecobrick construction.
Read more on Ecobricks: Cradle to Cradle
8. Ecobricks are a low-energy and local solution to plastic
To re-use the material of a simple plastic bottle, the global industrial recycling system uses a vast amount of energy. Plastic is first collected by trucks and delivered to a sorting facility involving massive machinery. The plastic is then shipped across the world to a foundry to be turned into raw materials. These raw materials are then sent to a factory to produce a new product. This product is then shipped around the world to a store.
In contrast, ecobricking and the application of an ecobrick takes place within the circle of one’s community. The consumed plastic is put to use locally– no machines, transportation or high energy systems required.
Traditional waste management systems require giant budgets, proprietary technology and vast amounts of energy to run. The recycling of a plastic bottle can result in plastic bouncing around the planet from a store in Canada, to a foundry in China, to a factory in the Philippines, to a river, to the ocean. Often, as soon as a city builds a recycling plant, there is already more plastic than capacity.
Ecobricking requires no special machines, skills, or finances to implement. The technology is 100% open source. Because of its simplicity, ecobricking can spread and over-reach plastic consumption rates.
9. Ecobricks can be put to great short term use
The utility of plastic has been used by large corporations to ship their cheap products around the world while the biosphere pays the full price. By appropriating plastic from the global system through ecobricking, we can instead put it to use for local benefit and ecological security. Completed ecobricks serve as reusable building blocks that can be assembled in a variety of practical and useful applications. The GEA team has been working for the last decade to innovate, develop, test and trial the best uses and practices for ecobricks that are fully cradle-to-cradle and make use of accessible local materials in what we call post-natural-building. We distinguish between short term (temporary) applications and long-term (indefinite) applications.
Short term applications are those that put freshly made ecobricks straight to use in modules, games and temporary constructions. Here are three of the most popular examples:
- Milstein modules: Ecobricks can be combined together using silicone or tire-bands to create hexagonal or triangular modules. Individual modules make great stools and seats. Milstein modules can be combined together vertically and horizonally to create tables, couches, beds, stages and more. For indoor use only.
- Dieleman Modules: Ecobricks an also be combined together to make vertically and horizontally stackable LEGO. Dielman modules can be combined together to make walls and structures of all kinds. For indoor use only.
- Ecobrick Open Spaces Once you’ve got thousands of ecobricks, you can make hundreds of ecobrick modules. With hundreds of Dieleman and Milstein modules you can create an interactive Ecobrick Open space where participants can move and arrange modules to create the social spaces they need. Advanced ecobrick communities can create a set for local use that is often rented out by governments festivals and events.
The great thing about short-term ecobrick applications is that after a few years, when your module or lego is wearing down, your ecobrick is 100% ready for a long-term, indefinite application…
10. Ecobricks can be put to great long-term / indefinite use
Ecobricks can also be put to great use to build indefinite consctructions. These are built with earth and ecobricks in such away that the ecobrick is completely protected from all forms of degradation. Our favorite earth and ecobrick application is the construction of green spaces, or ‘food forest play parks’. These small scale earth constructions are great opportunities for communities to come together to build something for the benefit of the community, local species and ecologies. Ecobricks can also be used to build walls and even structures, although these are not nearly as effective as small-scale green spaces in modeling replicable consciousness-raising community collaborations.
Like short term ecobrick applications, earth and ecobrick applications are fully cradle-to-cradle. The use of local earth to make cob serves as long lasting mortar- yet that will crumble without compromising the integry of the bottle (unlike cement). Whether the construction lasts 100 or 1000 years, the ecobrick is fully protected from degradation and when disassembled, the ecobricks can be extricated and put to use again. In this way, ecobricks secure or sequester plastic– the same way that the Earth kept ancient carbon under the ground for millions of years. We can thus gift our future generations in the same way, by saving our plastic as an opportune energy resource to accelerate the evolution of human consciousness.
11. Ecobricks are a Non-Captial, Open Source Solution that Spreads Virally
Ecobrick technology is designed from the ground up to be accessible, simple, and doable without expense, machines, or special equipment. Consequently, there is no profit or exchange of capital involved in the making of ecobricks or their application. The GEA has focused on developing ecobrick applications that continue along these open-source, Creative Commons free-to-distribute principles. In this way, individuals, communities and companies can afford to ecobrick without any profit motive. Ecobricking is thus fundamentally different from the for-profit exigencies of industrial recycling, waste-to-energy, incineration and other large scale, proprietary technologies.
The current production of plastic continues to increase at a significant linear rate. Traditional industrial recycling systems cannot keep up.
Ecobricking uses the principles of collaborative mandalic manifestation and the concept of an Earth Enterprise to ensure a principled viral spread of the technology.
We observe that when ecobricks are properly introduced in a community or city, the concept spreads exponentially — quickly surpassing the rate of local plastic consumption.
In the city of Jogjakarta, the municipal government saw the spread of ecobricking to each of its 453 neighbourhood units within several months. In the Northern Philippines, ecobricking spread through the entire school system, involving 250,000 students, within one year. In the city of Bontoc, ecobricking helped reduce the municipal plastic output so dramatically that the local dumpsite was closed within six months. In each case, when introduced methodically, ecobricking results in a dramatic dent in the actual amount of plastic ‘waste’ produced in a community over the short and long-term.
12. Ecobricks Enable an Alternative Local Medium of Exchange
Plastic that has been properly packed into an ecobrick can be put use as a building block that will not break down or contaminate the environment1. This plastic has been effectively and indefinitely sequestered. This service is valuable. Over the last decade, ecobrick exchanges for local community services have popped up around the world. In Guatemala children may exchange an ecobrick for access to the local football field. In the Philippines ecobricks can be exchanged for reusable straws and bottles at the local shopping mall. In Indonesia, one hundred ecobricks can be exchanged for a laptop in a program offered by a national plastic-packaged-food producer.
The Global Ecobrick Alliance has developed the GoBrik platform as a means to generate a manual block chain token based on the absence of plastic from the biosphere. In other words this token, known as a Brikcoin, is based on ecobricked, sequestered plastic.
Brikcoins are generated when peers on the platform independently review (validate) an ecobrick and concur (authenticate) that the plastic has indeed been ecobricked to GEA standards . A block of Brikcoins are then generated on the GoBrik platform corresponding to the weight of the plastic and distributed to those ecobrickers who did the validation work (validators) and to the GoBrik central reserve.
- Plastic Degradation and Its Environmental Implications: A journal article of the different ways plastics degrade into biological toxins.
- ‘Recycling: The Evil Illusion’ an essay on the fallacy of industrial recycling
- The production of methane and ethylene from plastic in the environment
- Degrading plastics revealed as a source of greenhouse gases
- Ecobricks: Cradle to Cradle Design
- How to Ecobrick?
- Essay: A Reflection on the Ethics of Ecobricking
- What are Ecobricks?
- Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet: The recent report on the effect of plastic’s lifecycle on the atmosphere:
You can read more about Ecobricks and Brikcoins on our dedicated project page.
For an in-depth read, check out our Ecobricks & Brikcoins Whitepaper.
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The GEA Catalyst Program eanables companies large and small to take their Green Business to a whole new level!
Free Designator Kit for Companies During CoVid-19
To help company's indicate that their single-use-packaging generated over the Covid-19 period is ecobrickable, we're releasing free our Ecobrickable Designator Icon and Kit for free download by companies on the GoBrik.com Shop.