What is plastic, and where do our plastics go?
Plastic is a great material. It is non-biodegradable, sturdy, lightweight, malleable, and dirt-cheap to produce. It can be made watertight, it won't rot, and won't be broken down by the elements, by microbes, or other living organisms. The very reasons that make plastic an awesome material however, are the same reasons plastic is detrimental to the environment.
When we think of plastic, most of us think only of plastic bags, straws, plates, and cups. It does not occur to most that plastic is everywhere and in almost everything. It's in our chewing gum, our contact lenses, the threads of our clothing, glitter in makeup, microbeads in toothpaste and facial wash, name it! Sadly, plastic can now also be found in the lungs and bellies of wildlife, as well as in our own bodies. Plastic is in the food we eat, and the very air we breathe.
Humans have created more than 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic since the early 1950s. Most of this has already been used and disposed of, but only 9% of this total has actually been recycled. This means that 91% of this has been dumped into the environment either by land (in landfills), air (through incineration), or sea (as ocean pollution).
The plastics we manufactured decades and decades ago are still around today, and will still be around tomorrow, to outlive us, our children, and our children's children. And the plastics we produce, consume, and discard today— well, is there no way we can change that? Can we not do something about that?
This video has a happy ending and tells us to recycle more. But are all plastics recyclable? No. In fact, most of the plastic packaging we see at grocery stores are not even recyclable at all. Chips wrappers? Egg trays? Bread packaging? Not recyclable. And what about the plastics that are recyclable, like, PET bottles and shampoo bottles? Are they infinitely recycleable? No. You'll be able to recycle them a few times, after which they'll still end up in a landfill. Recycling is not the solution to the planet's plastic crisis. It only delays the inevitable. (Besides, just because something is recyclable, doesn't mean it actually gets recycled. Do you know that less than 9% of ALL plastic in the world has ever been recycled? Ever?)
What are we doing about our plastic waste?
Few people in the Philippines segregate their waste. Even fewer take their plastic waste to recycling plants. Most have no idea where to take plastic for recycling, which types of plastic are even recyclable, or that recycling is even a thing. And what about non-recyclable plastics? Most people just unceremoniously dump everything together in trash cans.
What happens beyond the trash can is usually beyond most people. Hardly anyone contemplates where the garbage man takes their trash once it's taken from their homes. It rarely occurs to anyone that landfills and dumpsites are just finite bits of land— never too far from bodies of water, what with the Philippines being a typhoon-ridden archipelago and all. Sadly, where the water flows, the garbage also goes.
Statistics show that the Philippines is currently the third largest contributor to ocean trash in the world:
Contrary to popular belief, "properly" throwing trash in trash bins does not do the environment any good. In fact, sending trash to landfills only contributes to our waste crisis. So what do we do? We need to rethink the amount of waste we produce and dispose of, and act on it.
What's the best thing to do? Refuse plastic, and just quit buying anything packaged in or made of the stuff. Not everyone can do this though— at least not overnight. This is why we teach people how to downcycle their own waste through the practice of ecobricking. This article sums up everything you need to know about ecobricks, ecobricking, ecobrick drop-off locations, and ecobrick builds in the Philippines.
Ecobricks— uh, what are they?
What are ecobricks?
Ecobricks are PET plastic bottles stuffed solid with non-biodegradable waste. They can be used as building blocks in the low-cost construction of perimeter fences, garden beds, plant boxes, playgrounds, bike sheds, and other non load-bearing structures. Ecobricks can also be used to assemble cheap, modular furniture.
- To compress and contain trash, and keep them from landfills, waterways, and wildlife.
- To learn, monitor, and track personal consumption and disposal of non-biodegradable materials.
- To take responsibility for non-biodegradable trash produced, and ultimately lessen consumption.
So, how exactly do you make an ecobrick?
This is a detailed and annotated walk-through of the ecobrick creation process. We've also folded in our very own ecobricking tips and techniques.
1. Find a clean, dry, empty, PET bottle
The most common PET bottles are water bottles, soda bottles, juice, and milk-tea bottles. The maximum size accepted by most ecobrick builds is the 2L soda bottle. Avoid uncommon/unique/irregularly shaped bottles, as only identical bottles are stacked during builds.
Why PET? One reason PET is popular for use with food and beverage products is that it is a material that holds up well against chemicals, gases, and liquids. It is also highly resistant to diluted acids, oils, and alcohols. It may then be safe to assume that PET will have less chances of producing leachate when used in ecobrick builds. It can take at least 500 years for a PET bottle to degrade, when not exposed to elements such as the sun. Another attribute that makes PET a viable material for ecobricking is its ability to retain its physical properties over a relatively wide temperature range.
2. Prepare clean, dry, non-biodegradable waste
Collect non-recyclable, non-biodegradable waste for stuffing the ecobrick.
Non-biodegradable : nän-ˌbī-(ˌ)ō-di-ˈgrā-də-bəl
- not capable of being broken down by the action of living organisms
- a substance / chemical / material that is non-biodegradable cannot be changed to a harmless natural state by the action of bacteria, and may therefore damage the environment
Dirty, oily, non-biodegradable waste must first be rinsed/washed. Any food residue must be removed completely. Anything that has moisture or is biodegradable should not be placed inside the bottle. This is so nothing rots, decomposes, and/or emits gases that might cause pressure to build within the bottle. Use only clean, dry, non-biodegradable waste.
Some examples of non-biodegradable waste that can be ecobricked:
- plastic bags
- plastic straws
- candy and junk food wrappers
- cigarette butts
- acetate sheets
- nail polish chippings
- dental floss
- toothpaste tubes
- plastic egg cartons
- plastic stems from cotton swabs
- tampon applicators
- plastic straw string/rope
- wet wipes
- plastic laminate from paper disposables (e.g. straws, plates, etc.) and Tetra-Pak cartons
(You can lift plastic laminates off by first soaking the material in water, then peeling the plastic off.)
Plastic laminate from the paper packaging of food brought over by a house guest.
Some examples of what not to put in your ecobrick:
- Recyclable, non-biodegradable waste such as shampoo bottles, ice cream tubs, etc.
Technically, you can put these in your ecobrick, but we advise that these either be reused or taken to recycling facilities/events first. This way, the materials' life cycles are extended.
- Sharp items such as metal, glass, etc.
These are not ecobricked as they may puncture bottles from the inside. These are also usually recyclable and should be taken to recycling facilities/events instead.
- Fabrics made from plastics such as polyester, nylon, lycra/spandex, rayon, etc.
These can technically be stuffed into ecobricks. However, there are many better ways to repurpose fabric and extend its life. (If you are looking to donate scrap fabric, or looking for services to upcycle old fabric, join our local zero-waste community.)
- Biodegradable materials such as paper, cotton, wood, etc.
These are not allowed in the ecobrick as they may eventually break down within the bottle. Compost these materials instead.
3. Cut waste into smaller pieces
The PET bottle will be able to fit more non-biodegradable waste if the waste is cut into small pieces. Smaller particles will be easier to insert, compress, and squeeze into smaller spaces.
While regular scissors are used by a lot of people, we recommend using kitchen shears instead. A paper cutter (if you have one) is also great for slicing stiffer kinds of foil/plastic.
4. Stuff the bottle with cut up waste until it is completely full
- Stuff the bottom of the bottle with soft plastics.
This is so the plastics fill the grooves of the bottle and provide padding to cushion all of the other non-biodegradables.
- Stuff the label of the bottle into the bottle.
Do not leave it stuck to the outside of the bottle.
- Use a steel/wooden rod to pack trash tight into the bottle.
Think: cat wand, bamboo stick, drumsticks, rebar, etc.
Do not use: barbecue sticks or chopsticks.
- Any time you put trash in the bottle, shove it down to the bottom with the stick. Press down even when you feel doing so is just an exercise in futility.
- Insert a larger piece of plastic every once in a while to blanket the smaller particles and compress them.
- Keep stuffing, pushing, and layering until the bottle is very, very tightly packed, and full.
5. Perform a quality check
Ecobricks must be stuffed completely full. Here are some guidelines to check if your ecobricks will be accepted by build projects.
Inspect the ecobrick
There should be no air pockets, biodegradable particles, or moisture within the bottle.
Squeeze the ecobrick
There should be no give when you squeeze the bottle. It should not crackle.
Do a sniff test
Open the bottle and check for any smells. There should be no weird, funky odours.
Step on the bottle
The bottle must be stuffed completely solid that it is sturdy enough to lay on its side and step on.
Weigh the bottle
The bottle must weigh a substantial amount. Here is a guide that shows the minimum weight required for ecobricks. The heavier the ecobrick, the better. A good formula to use for the ecobrick's required minimum weight is:
Minimum weight (in grams) = bottle size (in ml) x 0.35 density factor
Aaaaand, you're done.
What are ecobricks for? How are they used?
There are a number different ways to build with ecobricks, and everyone is encouraged to start their own construction projects. Here are some examples:
Build modular furniture
This video shows how to construct tables, chairs, and modular furniture using ecobricks and silicone sealant. Silicone sealant is readily available at hardware stores.
Construct non load-bearing structures
This video shows how to construct perimeter fences, raised garden beds, compost pits, and similar non load-bearing structures using ecobricks, bamboo, chicken wire, and cement.
You may also download this learning module for free if you are starting your own ecobrick build: [ Ecobrick Construction Guide — by ecobricks.org ]
I cannot start my own build. What do I do with my ecobricks?
Where are ecobricks donated/collected/used?
Ecobricks are used in numerous low-cost construction builds all around the Philippines.
Please check with your own barangay/municipality to see if there already is an existing ecobricking initiative. The following organizations may have build projects or collection and drop off points in your area:
There are many ways to volunteer.
You can participate in the local ecobricking movement by volunteering in a number of different ways. Information on ecobrick build sites and drop-off centers can be found below.
Create and donate ecobricks
Create ecobricks and submit them to:
The Plastic Solution
[ view updated list of drop-off centers ]
- Ecobricks Philippines
[ view updated list of drop-off centers ]
[ subscribe to updates on our events and whereabouts ]
Please check these links from time to time, as the locations/establishments/collection partners of each of these organizations are updated regularly.
Become a drop-off center for ecobricks
If you have an establishment or a space you would like to volunteer for use as an ecobrick donation point, please let us know so we can put you in touch with The Plastic Solution, as well as plug your establishment on our online community, Buhay Zero-Waste. You must also be willing to shuttle the ecobricks you collect to any of The Plastic Solution's build sites.
Shuttle ecobricks to Zambales [ View map ]
Shuttle ecobricks to Baler [ View map ]
Shuttle ecobricks to La Union [ View map ]
Start your own ecobrick build [ Ecobrick Construction Guide — by ecobricks.org ]
Teach others how to ecobrick
Spread the word. Get your family, friends, and neighbours to ecobrick, and join the ecobrick challenge!
- Create an ecobrick.
- Post pictures of your ecobrick on social media with instructions on how to make an ecobrick.
- Use the following hashtags:
- Tag and challenge anyone who reacts, comments, or shares your post.
Looking for a resource speaker for your event/community? We do environment awareness and action talks, centered on the practice of Zero-Waste. Send us a message to book a talk with us.
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