Building With Bottles

Plastic Bottles

In a world of diminishing natural resources, architects, designers and builders are always looking for new, eco-friendly building materials. Enter the eco-brick.

An “eco-brick” is, quite simply, a plastic bottle that’s used as a brick. The bottle is usually stuffed with dry garbage to keep it from collapsing. They are simple and easy to make — all you need is a plastic bottle, some trash (the inorganic kind, like plastic bags) and a stick to stuff the trash into the bottle. The bricks are then fitted together using cement and steel bars. These environmentally friendly bricks are cheaper than more traditional materials like concrete — and, surprisingly, up to three times stronger as well, especially when it comes to wind resistance.

Milk Bales

Although eco-bricks might literally be made from garbage, their construction still requires some discrimination, and while they are cheap, plentiful, and eco-friendly, they do have some disadvantages when compared to the ordinary concrete brick. Only certain types of garbage can be used as a bottle filling — it must be inorganic (no food, nothing wet or toxic, nothing where bacteria can grow and create a health hazard). The bricks must be carefully filled and not have any gaps, lest they create a structural weakness — they are, after all, only plastic, and a single small gap could easily compromise the whole. Since plastic bottles are not always uniform in size, it can also be a challenge to gather consistent groups of “bricks.” The caps must be included with the bottles to avoid water damage or insect infestation, and, like any petroleum products, eco-bricks are quite flammable, especially if they are stuffed with dry trash like paper.

This new way of creating building materials has gained popularity in Guatemala and the Philippines, where communities have taken to making entire buildings with recycled bottles that would otherwise clutter up the landfill or the street. In Guatemala, a series of “bottle schools” have been built using eco-bricks, bringing educational facilities to impoverished areas that may not otherwise have been able to afford them. The “bottle schools” also make a big difference in the waste disposal problems in those countries — in the Philippines, for example, statistic show that any given town in the country throws away enough plastic bottles to construct a new “bottle school” every few weeks.

Wobo Heineken

Building with bottles has become so popular that Hug it Forward has created an entire website guide devoted to showing how to create eco-bricks. This is not a new idea, however. Using bottles as building materials came into vogue as early as 1963, when famous beer brewer Alfred Heineken conceptualized the “WOBO” or world bottle, a square-shaped bottle with an interlocking design that was created specifically to be used as a sort of brick. Not coincidentally, Heineken apparently had the idea after he visited the Caribbean, where he saw not only impoverished conditions, but beaches and streets overflowing with discarded plastic bottles.

Although the WOBO had a noble goal and a precision execution, the idea didn’t get any traction at the time, and a general lack of interest and widespread use led to the eventual disappearance of the world bottle. The idea itself, however, has lived on, with everyday plastic bottles being pressed into service every day.

Bottle wall

Eco-bricks are not a perfect solution to the problem of expensive housing materials and waste disposal, but they are proof that necessity is often the mother of invention, and a school literally built from compacted waste material is preferable to no school at all. The bottle brick is a lesson all its own: that with ingenuity and invention, nearly anything is possible.

Featured images:

Matthew from Distinctive Doors has experience in selling energy efficient recycled composite doors and frames – his favorite topics to write about are creative reuse of the ordinary, energy efficient homes and adaptation of industrial materials (especially reuse of shipping containers).

Filed in: Going Green, Green Building

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