Startups making building materials from ocean plastic

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Bogotá, Colombia, generates around 740 tons of plastic waste every day that could take 300 years to disintegrate. Luckily, a Colombian startup is recycling plastic waste into building material to alleviate these negative environmental issues. Fernando Llanos and architect Oscar Mendez founded the company Plastic Concepts specifically to recycle plastic and rubber into building blocks.

Ricardo Rico, Commercial Director of Conceptos Plásticos, said Designboom:

“The goal of Conceptos Plásticos is to respond to the different problems that affect the community nowadays while contributing both to the reduction of plastic pollution in the environment and the impact of plastic on global warming.”

(Credit: Conceptos Plásticos and UNICEF)

Conceptos Plásticos empowers recyclers in Colombia and around the world. They use hard-to-recycle polymers to make LEGO-like building blocks. Each variety of plastic gives the bricks a certain quality; thus, we can produce various products through different combinations of plastics.

Easy to assemble and affordable bricks are the result. In addition, they are stronger than standard building materials, thermo-acoustic, anti-seismic and fireproof.

Oscar Méndez commented:

“At the beginning, it happens to us everywhere that people say: a plastic house! – and think of a bag; people associate plastic with a bag. So they think that bringing a lighter closer, it will ignite; by putting a finger on it, it will break. But, when they see the product and its sturdiness, they realize and start weighing differently. After that, breaking that initial barrier for the user is very easy.

Conceptos Plásticos and UNICEF
(Credit: Conceptos Plásticos and UNICEF)

Conceptos Plásticos has partnered with UNICEF to transform plastic waste from Ivory Coast into low-cost modular plastic bricks for classrooms. UNICEF Representative Aboubacar Kampo proudly commented on the collaboration:

“This project is more than just a waste management and education infrastructure project; it’s a functional metaphor – the growing challenge of plastic waste being turned into literal building blocks for a future generation of children.

It’s not the only startup with such a goal. Other people around the world are starting businesses to make building materials from plastic waste to reduce the use of virgin plastic and help tackle the plastic pollution crisis.

For example, architect Rushabh Chheda launched Conscious designs while studying at TU Delft, the Netherlands. The company creates architectural ideas and products for the circular economy and uses waste as a resource to avoid the use of high-energy virgin materials. In his master’s thesis, he proposed creating affordable self-built housing using modular bricks made from local plastic waste to enable disadvantaged populations to build their own homes.

Conscious Designs bricks - plastic building material
(Credit: Conscious Designs)

In the Philippines, recyclers are turning bottles, pouches and snack wrappers that clog rivers and degrade beaches into building materials. plastic flamingo (or plaf), as they are called, clean, shred and recycle this ocean plastic into boards. Then they mold the plastic into “eco-wood” posts and boards for fences, decks and emergency shelters. Unfortunately, disaster relief structures are in high demand in the country.

The Plastic Flamingo - plastic building material
(Credit: The plastic flamingo)

Plastic in water is a major environmental problem. It costs about $8 billion a year. China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Thailand are major contributors (around 60%) of marine plastic litter. The Philippines alone dumps around 500,000 tonnes of plastic into the ocean each year.

Therefore, the more startups that collect this waste and use it to manufacture construction elements, the better. Homes are meant to last as long as possible, so the fact that plastics can last for hundreds of years is not a bad thing in the housing industry.

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