In July, 2017, we got the opportunity to teach for the third time at Santa Fe High School, and the second time with the Innovation Academy. The theme of this course was Building with Ecobricks. In previous courses we integrated a lot of different building materials, but in this one we wanted to really focus on the most community friendly upcycled resource that we know of – ecobricks! These plastic bottles stuffed full of plastic waste are being made in many countries around the world and incorporated into some pretty amazing structures.
On the first day of the course we visited our local landfill (Caja Del Rio operated by the SFSWMA), to see where the majority of plastics go that are generated in Santa Fe. The recent change in the local recycling system has allowed for the collection of a wider variety of plastics, but they are being overwhelmingly sent overseas for processing. Otherwise, a great amount of plastic waste is completely unrecyclable (think about all the different kinds of plastic bags and films). The students learned something else that day too – about the local upcycling solution of ecobricks. With plastic bottles and sticks in hand they carried out ecobrick cleanups in the Santa Fe River, and on the Caja Del Rio plateau north of the landfill, a location where plastic gathers after blowing out of the landfill, and illegal dumping is common.
The next days focused on several ways of integrating ecobricks into construction projects. First we made some modular furniture and sculptures with ecobricks, glued together with silicone adhesive. This simple solution for utilizing ecobricks is taking off in Indonesia with the help of our friends at Ecobricks.org. Next, we focused on integrating ecobricks into masonry projects. Students learned how to build simple wooden frames and fill them with ecobricks and different mixtures of cob (clay, sand, and straw) and cement to make homemade blocks for building. Notable projects using cob to build with ecobricks include Waste-Ed in South Africa and the Peace on Earthbench Movement based in the Bay Area of California.
The final building technique we shared with the students is filling wooden building frames with ecobricks. This is how it all began in Guatemala with the organization Pura Vida Atitlan, and the building style has since been passed down and dispersed to many projects and communities throughout Central and South America. One organization alone in Guatemala, Hug It Forward, has built 104 schools and counting by filling the walls of classrooms with ecobricks. Our students built two wooden wall panels with plywood backing, and filled them with ecobricks. On our final day we assembled the bricks and wall panels into a temporary structure with a shade cloth placed above, and the ecobrick furniture inside. All in all, it was a great opportunity to share some positive ideas for plastic waste with some local youth.