Building work, comfort for the homeless, and even 5,000 kilometres of road made from re-purposed plastic waste – these are the solutions that some of the most inspirational communities around the world have come up with to combat not only plastic pollution and wastefulness, but also a variety of social issues that some are faced with. We could all learn from them!
1, Building houses
The BBC and The Mind Unleashed covered this story back in 2011, and you can read the whole thing here. This concept is called ‘Bottle Bricks’ and originated in India and South and Central America in 2002. With the help of social media and the tireless work of grassroots organisations, it has spread around the world. I think it should be looked at seriously as a competent solution for not only plastic waste, but also homelessness.
These ‘Bottle Bricks’ maintain a cool temperature all year round in climates as hot and volatile as those in countries such as Nigeria and Bolivia, where these homes are being used by a small number of communities. But it should, and could, be more. Brennan Blazer Bird of organization Peace on Earthbench Movement (POEM) has taken the ‘Bottle Brick’ concept to building large community benches as well, and this has proved very successful in bringing people together whilst at the same time combating plastic pollution.
As a result of Bird’s work, there are now over 40 ‘earth benches’ in more than 15 different countries, including Argentina, the Philippines, Ethiopia, rural India and Ghana. It’s my hope that this will catch on and inspire homes as well in these communities.
The bottles are filled with sand and arranged in such a way that the homes are not only waterproof, but also bulletproof! Single-handedly preventing plastic pollution by reusing the plastic bottles and creating safe, durable homes. #winning
2, Plastic roads
This is one of the most heartening developments for me when it comes to plastic waste. I first saw the concept used in India in an old video I can’t find anymore on YouTube, where pieces of the plastic detritus was added into an asphalt mix used in the road building process and re-purposed to fill pot-holes.
The melted plastic mix actually made the roads stronger and melded to fill the pot-holes really well, as well as proving a cheaper alternative to the extra barrels of oil usually purchased to make asphalt, so it is no wonder that this concept was picked up again some years later in the UK by engineer Tony McCartney and his Scottish start-up MacRebur.
Tony’s company works with local councils in Scotland to persuade them to hand over plastic waste that plagues their communities, which is then used to resurface their roads as a plastic mix. Recently, MacRebur have partnered with the London council of Enfield to use their plastic road mix to resurface their roads, as well as working with supermarket giant Tesco to surface their car parks.
Tony says that this addition of plastic waste to their new asphalt actually makes roads more durable than when they are made the more conventional way, as well as being cheaper to produce overall and 60% stronger than standard asphalt. Here is a full YouTube video introducing Tony, his company and the plastic road process. I really hope more councils and as many road surfacing companies as possible get on board with this!
3, Tableware & Cutlery
This is a craze that is only just catching on and it’s taken a bit of research to find the most trusted brands who actually use recycled plastic in creating new items for tableware, dinner sets, cups and cutlery.
Re-play.com is one of them – these children’s tableware collections in ‘Mini Rainbow’ and Black & White are made in the USA from recycled milk jugs (HDPE recycled plastic) & recycled FDA-approved polypropylene. They come in a variety of colours and they also do individual cups, bowls, and utensils from as little as $1.50 each.
Another great design which has used plastic waste to its advantage is rCup, a creation by Cornish company ashortwalk – award-winners in making “pioneering eco-products”, such as tide clocks, house signs, reusable coffee cups and flower pots, all crafted from redundant materials that needed a new life. rCup came about when, in late 2016, ashortwalk were asked to develop ideas for reusing paper disposable coffee cups, of which thousands are thrown away each week without ever being recycled. Working with one of their recycling partners, Nextek and a PhD thesis by Imperial College London, they realised that if they recycled the whole disposable paper cup – plastic and all – rather than trying to separate it, they could make a strong and durable recycled plastic polymer fibre from this blend, which could then be used to mould into different products – and rCup was born.
As it proudly states on their website: “rCUP is the the only reusable cup that reduces and recycles. Plus at the end of its very long life – at least 10 years – it will be recycled into the next product.” I think these cups are a chic and affordable option to disposable paper cups, coming in four different styles at £12.00 each.
In terms of picnic utensils and packages I would recommend Eco-Products, and look for the blue ‘post-consumer recycled content’ sign on each product, as above. For a wider variety of home-ware utensils, including measuring jugs and colanders, all made from 100% recycled plastic and made in the USA, I recommend GreenHome.com, who stock Preserve items.
Preserve are a brand who guarantee that their products are made with either 100% recycled plastic or 100% recycled post-consumer paper.
V-10 BMESH NATURAL MARSALA -110,00 € by Veja.
These trainers are made from a combination of wild rubber, organic cotton, vegetable tanned leather, and B-mesh – the fabric Veja created for themselves out of recycled plastic bottles.
There are so many pieces of fashion made from recycled plastics out there on the market today that it really is quite heartening. Most are made with PET – the fabric that is produced from post-consumer waste plastic bottles, made originally from polyethylene terephthalate and then shredded into smaller fragments during the recycling process, until the end result produces “PET flakes”. It is these flakes that go on to form the base material for products that would otherwise be made from polyester.
Made from 78% ECONYL® – recycled Nylon crafted from ocean waste
Several fashion and sports equipment companies have capitalised on this use of plastic and have created products that are not only helping the environment, but also look beautiful too. Some examples of these companies are Fourth Element (for sports and swimming equipment) RAFA (for shoes handmade in L.A.), J W Pei (for luxury women’s handbags), Veja (for trainers) and Vivobarefoot (for barefoot running shoes).
RAFA shoes are handmade in Los Angeles by a small group of artisans with material that is engineered out of 80% recycled plastics. They describe it as a ‘close-looped’ manufacturing process, whereby dyes, chemicals and other toxins are not dumped into the environment.
Vivobarefoot create running shoes in styles that are made out of at least 17 recycled bottles “to create a quick-draining mesh that minimises water-weight”.
JW PEI produce luxury women’s handbags made from recycled bottles. They pledge that over 50% of their material is made from recycled plastic, going 100% in 5 years!
5, Bedding and comfort
If you would like to make your own plastic bedding, please follow these handy instructions here.
Although finding alternative uses for plastic waste is a step in the right direction, I believe that there are many environmental benefits to halting the production of plastic altogether, but this is a very long-term goal which would be quite difficult to implement at this stage. However, there are companies who are finding alternatives to plastic, such as Vegware and Biopac, who are making tableware and cutlery from a material out of plants.
I am collecting more information about this – what we could and should be using – for a different post. So watch this space!
In Love&Light FS XOXO