What are ecobricks?
Have you ever heard of ecobricks? I hadn’t until I was listening to the Climate Queens podcast in the episode ‘Good news only’. I would highly recommend this if you are looking for some positive and uplifting content! Anyway, back to ecobricks and what are they?
An ecobrick is a plastic bottle packed tightly with used plastic to make a reusable building block. It is a low-tech and simple solution to dealing with plastic consumption. Ecobricks allow us to see how much plastic we are consuming. As a result of seeing this, hopefully encourage us to use less plastic. By making ecobricks, we can stop plastic entering industrial systems and the environment while making it into a practical object like a table. It is important to remember ecobricks are no substitute for reducing plastic waste.
How to make a Ecobrick?
- Use a transparent PET bottle
- Pack with used plastics, they have to be clean and dry
- Must have a density of 0.33g/ml or higher
- Must have a density of 0.70g/ml or less
- Seal tight with a screw down lid.
- Be careful not to overfill your brick
- Add a colour in the bottom
- Add the weight on the outside.
If you personally don’t use plastic bottles but still want to get creative and make something using ecobricks, you could ask in bars and restaurants for plastic bottles.
The problem with plastic
The vast majority of plastic comes from fossil hydrocarbons such as coal and gas. None of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable. Plastic remains have been found in all major ocean basins. Roughly 4-12 million metric tons of plastic waste made on land entered the marine environment in 2010 alone. By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish! Many of the plastic items we use will eventually get thrown out.
If plastic waste is not properly disposed of or managed it can end up in the ocean. Unlike organic material such as wood, plastic does not biodegrade. Biodegradation is the way in which organic material is broken down by microorganisms in the soil and turned into other useful compounds. This is not the case for plastic. Plastic breaks down through photodegradation. This means it is broken down by light. The sun breaks down plastic into microplastics which can detrimentally impact the environment by being absorbed by plants, fishes and animals. It can take hundreds of years for plastics to break down.
Damage plastic causes to marine life
Seal Rescue Ireland regularly rescue marine mammals that have ingested or been entangled by marine plastic pollution. They take part in making ecobricks as a way of reducing ‘marine plastics by creatively up-cycling our soft plastic waste into ecobricks’.
How does plastic end up in the sea?
You may think that plastic that is thrown in the bin could not end up in the ocean, however this is not the case. 80% of plastic in our oceans is from land sources but where is it coming from? Plastic can end up in the ocean in many ways for example, when plastic is collected and transported to landfills. It is at risk of escaping into the environment and even when it is in the landfills it can blow into rivers or oceans. Littering also contributes to plastic pollution as rainwater carries plastic waste to drains which then continue to rivers and oceans. Improper waste disposal and illegal dumping also hugely increases the surge of plastic waste. Many products that go down the drain contain plastic which then end up back in the oceans.
Plastic is everywhere and we use it every day of our lives. From our toothbrush and face wash to the container you keep your lunch in. Many cosmetics have microplastics in them. Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic found in numerous types of personal care products.. Microbeads do not biodegrade and can contribute to 2,000-3,000 tonnes of microplastics annually through detergents and personal care products.
Often used as exfoliants, they are a cheaper alternative to natural ingredients. Face and body washes can contain tiny beads of polypropylene, another commonly used material for microbeads. Cosmetics can also be made using plastic like polyethylene and polypropylene and even glitter is made with plastic. On a more positive note, Ireland passed The Microbeads Act 2019 which prohibits the manufacture or placing on the market of cosmetics, personal care products, household and industrial cleaning products that contain plastic microbeads. The Act also bans the import or export of such products and makes it an offence to dispose of substances containing microbeads by pouring it down the drain or into marine of freshwater environments.
How to make a difference
Ecobricks are an effective way of reminding us of our plastic consumption. They are one way of reusing the single use plastic we are consuming. Other ways could be bringing a reusable cup the next time you are meeting friends for a coffee, some places actually offer a discount when you bring you own cup. Less than 1% of takeaway coffee cups can be recycled, meaning after spending only a short while in your hand, they can spend decades in a landfill.
Say no to plastic cutlery!
Bring your own bottle. The lids of plastic bottles are commonly found in the stomachs of seabirds. Say no to plastic cutlery which is usually only used for a matter of minutes. Avoid plastic straws, if you don’t need one don’t use one. Plastic straws and stirrers can take up to 200 years to decompose. Try a metal straw and leave it in your bag. Ditch the cling film as it is generally not recyclable so opt for foil instead. Get creative with plastic. See below where a bench was made using ecobricks and is located in a primary school.
The bench is constructed of 154, mostly 2 litre ecobricks, covered in the traditional building material cob, made from clay, sand and straw. The cob protects the plastic from sunlight exposure, which would otherwise degrade it and break it down into microplastic. With all the plastic crammed into these bottles, Sammy has redirected almost 90kg of plastic from landfill and waterways. Getting creative with plastic can be a fun and satisfying project while preventing plastic from entering the environment and having drastic consequences.
Documentary on Plastic in the ocean on Netflix:
Seal Rescue Ireland:
Plastic in the Ocean:
More in depth reading:
How to help:
Take part in a local beach clean-up and make an ecobrick!