EcoBrick Exchange: Building schools with plastic waste and empowering communities

EcoBrick Exchange is turning an environmental nuisance into a positive for underprivileged communities in South Africa, by facilitating the construction of preschools using unrecyclable plastic waste or ecobricks.

The EcoBrick Exchange is a collaborative project that involves the community in Walmer Township to assist in making the ecobricks, and includes the wider communities of Port Elizabeth and Cape Town to assist in the making too.

An Ecobrick is a plastic bottle stuffed solid with non-biological waste – such as cellophane, chip packets, sweet wrappers and everything that can’t easily be recycled – to create a reusable building block. Ecobricks are used to make modular furniture, garden spaces and full scale buildings such as schools and houses.

Combining architectural and engineering techniques with ideas that save the environment from pollution, EcoBrick Exchange’s programmes empower individuals to address the shortage of quality education facilities, implement sustainable waste management systems and raise environmental awareness.

EcoBrick Exchange collects items of value: clothes, bikes, unwanted furniture. Once enough has been collected, the EcoBrick Exchange assigns an “EcoBrick value” to each item. For example, a jersey could be swapped for 10 completed EcoBricks (each EcoBrick will have a trading value of R10).

EcoBrick Exchange was recently involved in the delivery of Cape Town’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre in Delft, one of the poorer suburbs in Cape Town with high rates of violent crimes.

Ecobricks were chosen for the new build as the material is highly insulating building, waterproof, fire-proof and even bullet-proof.

Built almost entirely from reclaimed and natural materials, EcoBrick Exchange helped get the local community involved in producing EcoBricks for parts of the new ECD centre. In exchange for building bricks for the preschool, participants got to clean up their community and gain items of value.

The first EcoBricks were prototyped by environmental activist, Susana Heisse, in Guatemala more than 25 years ago as an alternative building material. The idea is that it combats both pollution and poor infrastructure in communities.

Build projects have now sprung up worldwide in Latin America and the Philippines, as well as South Africa.

EcoBrick Exchange

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea

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