Written by Hallie Brennan, Upcycle Santa Fe | June 2018
There’s a hand made wooden box painted different shades of turquoise at 917 Don Juan Street. It’s the collection point for Ecobrickers of Santa Fe and northern New Mexico. We are a small two-person team, Upcycle Santa Fe, and we’ve been collecting Ecobricks from the Santa Fe community for years. A popular question we receive from all sorts of acquaintances regards Ecobrick collection points beyond the one here at the Upcycle Santa Fe office. We’ve been asked to set up collection points throughout our city, in all other 49 capitol cities throughout the US, and all throughout the northern parts of our home state of New Mexico. Our team of two is thrilled by the enthusiasm, but we’ve got our hands pretty full supporting and operating our already existing projects. So… I think it’s well beyond time to talk to you, yes YOU, you Ecobricking enthusiast, about starting an Ecobrick collection point in your city or town. I double dog dare you to take this seriously!
First things first, engage your community. Talk to people about Ecobricks. Teach them how to make a prim and proper brick, and excite them for all the plastics they’re keeping out of their local landfill and water systems. Most people don’t realize soft plastics – like plastic bags, cheese wrappers, or an energy bar wrapper – aren’t recyclable by industry standards. The guilt of tossing single use soft plastics into the trash, or the deceiving recycle bin, after learning to Ecobrick is almost unbearable. I speak from my own experience. Convincing even just a couple people of the importance and environmental impact of stuffing Ecobricks will come easy for you. Then those people tell a couple people, and a couple more people tell a couple more people, and next thing you know you really need an Ecobrick collection point. Now is when your creativity and passion carry you.
Create your collection point. It can be tricky placing a collection point on public property. This is why we created our collection point in front of our own home office address. We live in the desert, so our collection point is primarily wind and sun proof. You don’t want your Ecobricks blowing away, and you absolutely need to keep them out of the sun. Research of Ecobrick built structures has proven that photodegradation is the leading cause of deterioration of Ecobricks. The sun will bake the plastic bottle; the sun will weaken it so much eventually the plastic bottle cracks, and the soft plastics inside the bottle are unfortunately set free. This will happen a lot quicker than you’d expect. When it comes to the rain, waterproofing your collection point isn’t seriously necessary because people should be placing lid-sealed-tight Ecobricks into the bin. If they’re rained on, it won’t ruin a properly stuffed and sealed Ecobrick.
Create a storage space. You should accept the challenge up front that the collected Ecobricks will begin to pile up. It can be a little overwhelming, but remember how each and every brick is your community’s effort to keep plastics out of the landfill and water systems, and then you’ll be so stoked when the Ecobricks are piling up. Storage space needs to be sun-proof, most importantly. Again, don’t let your Ecobricks blow away, and a little rain won’t bother them. Perhaps you have space in your garage, or a shed out back you aren’t properly using? For us, we built an outdoor storage area comprised of large wooden bins which are covered on top with corrugated metal. Your community Ecobricks will continue to pile up until you are able to plan a building project with them. This will determine the size of the storage space you’ll need, depending on how quickly you’re able to turn over the collected bricks into a local building project.
Create building projects. There are building code restrictions when using Ecobricks in the United States. Only structures under 120 square feet are allowed – for now. (We’re working on this part…) This means your options for building projects will be small, but that’s alright! We’ve built a number of outdoor benches, garden beds, dog houses, and courtyard walls with the Ecobricks we’ve collected. The technique for building with Ecobricks is pretty standard, and informative tutorials can be found all over the internet. Did you know there are Ecobrick structures in Guatemala, Indonesia, South Africa, Costa Rica, the Philippines, and beyond?! The information on building is out there, trust me. Contact us here at Upcycle Santa Fe anytime you have questions in our website’s About tab. You have a support system, friend!
As far as we know, Upcycle Santa Fe operates the one and only Ecobrick collection point in the entire United States. That’s kind of cool, but no, not really cool at all. What would be way more cool and interesting is a network of Ecobrick collection points scattered throughout the nation. “What difference will one collection point really make?”, said an entire nation. The United States is one of the leading producers of plastic waste. It’s time for us to step up to the plate and creatively take on some responsibility for the “waste” we generate. By starting an Ecobrick collection point and building projects in your own city or town, you are tapping into a global network of outside-the-box thinkers and environmentally conscious peoples. The connections you will make and opportunities that will arise will not disappoint! So again, I double dog dare you to take this seriously.