When thinking about construction on your smallholding, a solution might be found in your recycling in the form of ecobricks. As an alternative to cement bricks and other building materials, ecobricks can be used for quick-assembly walls, planters, raised garden beds, benches and other plot infrastructure.

A couch and table in the Free State. Image: Global Ecobrick Alliance.

Items like soft plastics (packets, bags etc), chip packets, sweet wrappers, tinfoil, wax paper, cling wrap, cable ties, plastic from earbuds, old toothbrushes, old balloons, plastic cutlery and elastic bands can all be used to make ecobricks.

An ecobrick is an empty two litre cold drink bottle that has been densely stuffed with non-recyclable discarded plastic. This bottle can then be used as a building brick that is insulating, robust and affordable. When held together with cement, the ecobricks act as a substitute to a clay or sand brick and have been used to build benches, walls and even whole rooms or buildings.

How To Make An Ecobrick

Find an empty, clean two litre plastic bottle. Make sure you have the lid as well.

Ensure that your discarded plastic items are clean, rinse any food or organic waste off the items and allow them to dry before your start packing.

Pack the bottle tightly with your non-recyclables. Use a stick to push the items down so that you pack your brick as tightly as possible. It is important to mix your types of waste ~ using only one type of plastic will not create a strong enough brick. Mix it up with chip packets, old toothbrushes, felt and discarded cotton from your sewing projects etc.

After each layer, use your stick to really push down hard on the plastic, creating a tightly compacted brick. Your brick should weigh around 700 grams. You will see this requires a considerable amount of plastic.

When finished, your brick should be hard ~ you should be able to stand on it without it crunching. Work by the philosophy “if you can squeeze it, you can’t use it”.

It is very important that you do not put any wet or biodegradable waste in your brick (tea bags, sanitary items, tissues etc).

Using Your Ecobricks

Once complete, you can get to work building your structure. There are a number of recommended ways of using ecobricks to build including a hexagonal method, Lego-like method, and others. Click here to see some ideas for using your ecobricks to create structures on your plot.

Hexagonal module. Image: Global Ecobrick Alliance.

Ecobricks can be fitted together lid-side up with the following brick lid-side down to create a locking method. This can also be achieved with the hexagonal method of fitting a series of bricks together. Place bricks all the same way up to form a large honey-comb shape brick. Then a second hexagonal block fitted lid to lid with the first to create height and strength.

Depending on your desired use, your ecobricks can be secured together with elastic for a non-waterproof structure, cow dung for a cheap sealant or cement for a more permanent structure.

Main Image: Global Ecobrick Alliance.

This is a part of a series on buildings and infrastructure on smallholdings and small farms. To read the series, click here.

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