By Kevin Joshua G. Rebultan
Made from petrochemicals, plastics lead non-biodegradable waste by-products that take 450 to 1,000 years to decompose.
But the long wait for plastic waste to perish may soon become irrelevant with the recent initiatives that provide a solution to the pollution. Plastics can now be used to build a community. Construction company AVD Builders, in collaboration with Green Antz Builders, converts plastic waste into a construction product called the “cement eco-brick.”
You might have already heard about eco-bricks; the use of plastic bottles stuffed with other non-recyclable materials which can be used to build houses and other infrastructures. Cement eco-bricks, on the other hand, take sustainability to a whole new level. These are made up of shredded plastic wastes mixed with wet cement.
Management graduate Rafael Dionisio, general manager of AVD Builders, admits to being a nature lover. He explains that eco-bricks are a way to preserve and protect the environment by taking away the plastics, storing them, and using them for other innovations. “There’s so much plastic trash and we need to do something about it. One of the things we thought of is to create a legitimate alternative to the traditional cement hollow blocks,” he says.
From Trash to Treasure
Cement eco-bricks are a fusion of two technologies, the 32-year-old explains. First is the additive of 50 to 100 pieces of plastic in each brick. Second is the molding process; cement eco-bricks are not exactly hollow. They are built like Lego blocks with modules on top and holes at the bottom, making them stackable and faster to pile.
These are different from the moe popular bottle eco-bricks made by stuffing plastics into water or soda bottles. “(Those) are done by volunteers and (as) a way to segregate. They can also be used for simple walls and park benches,” Dionisio says. “The cement eco-bricks are much stronger, and are really meant to comply with professional construction standards.”
The collection of plastic wastes is initiated by Circle Hostels, an eco-hostel business also managed by Dionisio. Plastic donations are also accepted by Green Antz Builders through their recycling plants, with the main production facility located in Bulacan.
Different kinds of plastics are shredded. Soft plastics are candy wrappers, shampoo sachets, and other thin plastic materials. Mid-level range plastics are the takeout containers, for example. The hardest plastics are bottle caps.
After they are shredded, they are mixed in with other materials that are used in making traditional hollow blocks like wet cement, gravel, and stones. The molded bricks are then sun-dried.
Compared to the standard hollow block—with only 150 PSI, or the resistance to downward force in pounds per square inch—cement eco-bricks are heavier, sturdier, and more compact. Depending on the shredded plastics mixed with them, cement eco-bricks have up to 670, 770, and 870 PSI. This means that the structures built with them are four times stronger. “How many times have storms blown through houses made out of traditional hollow blocks?” Dionisio says. “Cement eco-bricks will definitely make a difference.”
Dionisio adds that the cement eco-bricks, which come in different colors, are not banking on improved compression strength alone, but also on design. “I’m not appealing to your sense of love for environment only. I’m appealing to your sense of love for quality and aesthetics,” he declares, adding that he is already in the talks with some architectural firms.
From Waste to Wealth
May pera sa basura.
There is value in plastic trash when it is integrated to the economy, declares Dionisio. From the collection of plastic wastes to the actual production of cement eco-bricks, people from rural communities are provided with jobs.
In terms of purchasing, Dionisio anticipates that people will choose quality over affordability. “Filipinos are careful on how they spend their money. So the best way to convince them is proof of concept. I need to prove, and they need to touch it to believe it,” he says.
Cement eco-bricks are currently priced at P24, sixty percent more expensive than the regular hollow blocks.
To help in the marketing, Dioniso is eager to introduce cement eco-bricks to real estate companies. He affirms that private sectors are the ones with financial capacity, knowledge, and access to production to push these kinds of environment-friendly endeavors. If the proposal goes well, he is hopeful that the Philippines will soon develop its own recyclable construction industry. “I hate it but most of the time, I have no choice but to import quality materials. And even on importation, almost everything goes through a plastic pack. It’s ironic,” he laments.
The ultimate challenge, according to Dionisio, is the generational change of mindset. With that, he considers to conduct training with the young professionals.
Dionisio believes that while plastics will never be removed from the biosphere, people can reduce usage. “Plastic isn’t a bad product as a substance for sale. It is in the planet for a reason, but it’s how we use it that is not sustainable,” he says. “How we see it has to change. That’s the critical part.”