Most of the products that one buys are disposable and consist mainly of plastic and its derivatives. These are dumped in landfills and in the oceans causing irreparable environmental damage, such as water pollution, fertile soil and the poisoning of animals that are attracted by their textures and colors.
According to figures from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), every year 10 billion tons of garbage are produced, of which 6 million tons end up in the sea.
Along the same lines, a plastic bottle takes about 700 years to decompose and the same happens with the slow process of degradation of plastic bags. Only a small percentage can be recycled.
What are eco-bricks?
Given these staggering numbers, there is a way to give that kind of junk a second life. It is a form of sustainable construction whose main material is eco-bricks and emulates a conventional brick.
They consist of clean, disposable, transparent, unlabeled, capped plastic bottles that are pressure-filled with clean, dry, hard-to-recycle waste. The objective is to generate low-cost construction material in order to reduce polluting waste and the volume of garbage that reaches landfills.
This technique emerged as a necessity in Central America as it is an inexpensive construction material that at the same time contributes to the environment. In countries such as Guatemala, Colombia, Uruguay, Honduras, Argentina and Chile it has been publicized through mainly citizen initiatives.
Organizations committed to the environment
In Chile there are some non-governmental and municipal organizations that work with eco-bricks, either collecting them or building them with a social purpose. Valpo Intervenes is one of them and it is for the benefit of the Valparaíso commune. The organization's communications manager, Francisca Mayorga, explained the work they do:
When an organization needs eco-bricks, we create the link to get them. We invite people to come and drop off their eco-bricks, at the office or at our clean point in Playa Ancha, and in this way we always have some considerable quantity. For example, two months ago we made a donation of eight bags (more than 800 eco-bricks) to the Viña del Mar Environment Department for the construction of a clean point in that city.
This clean point was built in April 2013 in República with Quebrada Verde, Playa Ancha. It was the first in Valparaíso and its construction, which took four months, was made with 1,500 eco-bricks.
In the Metropolitan Region there is another NGO called La Fabulosa Minga Sustentable that is dedicated to the same. They have built a rainwater collection tank at the Vívero Cumbre del Parque Metropolitano with 1500 eco-bricks, an eco-plaza for the Los Pelluquitos kindergarten in San Pedro de Melipilla (785 eco-bricks were used in the shade only) and a 45-square-meter room for the San Gerardo nursing home in Quilicura where 3,200 eco-bricks occupied.
In addition, some time ago they had installed a green point in the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center, which was maintained for four years, so that the people of Santiago could leave their own eco-bricks. There they collected them for eco-construction and also offered workshops related to caring for the environment.
In 2015 they managed to receive 50,000 eco-bricks, of which some were donated and others used in their workshops and buildings. The director of the NGO, César Palomero, spoke about the technique they apply:
The world's greatest experience with eco-bricks has been developed by the German engineer Andreas Froese in the construction of walls and water tanks. We had the opportunity to train with him in his technique. A year ago we have been developing a new, modular construction system, which has been very comfortable and accessible, structuring in wood, where the eco-brick is filled, complementing it with raw earth and straw in the case of walls to treat thermal bridges and plasters. With these blocks it is possible to create structures of various shapes and sizes, such as benches, planters, cultivation beds and walls.
Not only organizations are concerned about these issues, but also natural persons who are interested in recycling and reusing materials to reduce waste. This is the case of Bárbara Barrera, a visual arts teacher, who for a year in Villa Alemana, built with 150 eco-bricks the 60-square-meter extension of a house, which eventually became the kitchen.
He made the eco-bricks based on the waste from his house and for the construction he covered them with a chicken mesh, covered the structure with mud and later colored it with natural paints.
The above was completed in 2012 and he currently found a new use for eco-bricks and is using them to fence the cultivation beds in his garden, as they help delay the appearance of weeds in the plantings.
Continuing with the citizen motivation, but using other material under the same concept, Antonia Acuña gave her testimony:
My house is near Valdivia where people build with wood and without insulation or with plumage, which is very bad. So I built it with insulation and for that I used tetrapack. To fill them, we use garbage from clothing stores that are clean plastics, it is important that they are not filled with dirty things because it attracts rodents.
How to make an ecobrick?
Both organizations gave some advice for those who are motivated to prepare them and contribute to caring for the environment. Valpo Intervened gave an important piece of information:
Making an eco-brick is very easy and doesn't take long. However, we want to be emphatic with reduction over reuse, that is, reduce the consumption of products that cannot be recycled. If Chile, for example, had recycling centers, eco-bricks would not be a solution to excess garbage. Thus consuming little, the elaboration of an eco-brick can take up to five months, if you live alone.
Step 1: Wash and dry the PET bottle and store its cap.
Step 2: When cooking, roll up and put in the bottle the containers (plastic, aluminum foil, feather, plasticized paper) that do not remain with food remains, wash them and let them style before entering them. All the elements that enter must be completely dry, without food or water, because then fungi come out and methane gas is produced, which can be dangerous.
Step 3: Compress the waste with a wooden spoon. This is very important because the ideal weight of an eco-brick is 500 grams and it must be well compacted so that it does not affect the stability of the construction. Cover the bottle and that's it. To check if it is well done, climb on it horizontal position and see if it deforms.
Important: Batteries should never be inserted due to their toxicity, nor only plastic bags because it would be too soft.
Also, remember that eco-bricks are mainly used as thermal insulators, but they also serve as a replacement for a conventional brick, such as to make a retaining wall.
If you are motivated to build with them, you can guide yourself with the construction manual with eco-bricks prepared by the Extension Directorate of the Austral University of Chile.
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