Another use for plastic waste – as building blocks for new homes and schools

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What would you do with 15 tonnes of plastic waste? On the Indonesian island of Lombok, they decided to build a school.

In June, a team of builders assembled a five-classroom school in Lombok’s Taman Sari village, using special blocks made from PET bottles, food packaging and other plastic waste.

About three tonnes of recycled plastic is enough for one classroom, offering a quicker, cheaper and eco-friendly alternative to bricks and mortar.

The main structure went up in less than a week. It took another two weeks to finish tiling, plastering and painting, as well as installing all the ceilings, lighting, fans and whiteboards. 

Relevant Sustainable Development Goals

Next up are four more schools and two homes using the same materials – the invention of a Finnish company called Block Solutions.

These initial projects rely on imported blocks from Finland. If all goes to plan, a local factory will open in Lombok next year, the first in Asia for Block Solutions, paving the way for a large-scale building program on Lombok and beyond.

Block Solutions already runs franchises to make low-income housing in Africa (Uganda, Egypt, Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, Namibia) and Latin America (Brazil).

These factories grind down food-grade plastics before blending the granules with wood fiber. The mixture is then molded into lightweight but durable blocks. The company calls them Eco-Blocks.

The new school in Lombok is the first made with Eco-Blocks worldwide.

Molding is a complex but high-output process, explains Block Solutions founder Markus Silfverberg. A fully automated injection-molding machine can produce one block every minute.

“Injection molding is perhaps one of the most efficient ways of producing end-products,” Silfverberg says. “However, until now, the method has not been used for building materials.” 

A dedicated production facility would be good for Lombok’s economy while helping combat plastic waste, notes the island’s vice-governor Dr Sitti Rohmi Djalilah. 

“We hope that Eco-Blocks can not only build classrooms but other facilities like houses and libraries,” she says. 

Plastic pollution is rife in Indonesia, the world’s second-largest source of plastic waste after China. 

Every day, Indonesia generates another 24,000 tonnes or so of unwanted plastic.

About 20%, or around 9,000 tonnes a day, ends up in Indonesia’s rivers and the sea, according to the World Bank.

 

Safer buildings

The new school in Taman Sari is part of ongoing reconstruction work after a series of powerful earthquakes tore through Lombok in 2018, killing 563 people while displacing more than 417,000.

Eco-Block schools are intended as a more durable replacement for pop-up schools set up after the quakes as well as others yet to be rebuilt.  

Three years later, almost half of Lombok’s schoolchildren still study in temporary shelters. 

The modular Eco-Blocks superstructure has been designed with earthquakes in mind. Its elasticity, combined with the light weight of the blocks, offer extra resilience as well as safety. 

“The Lombok project hopefully can be seen as a business that can be scaled and replicated elsewhere in other parts of Indonesia,” notes Phil Turtle, president of the Australia Indonesia Business Council, an organization promoting bilateral trade and investment.

The initiative is supported by Classroom of Hope, an Australian charity, in collaboration with Pelita Foundation, a Lombok-based NGO specializing in education.

The technology used to make recycled blocks offers endless possibilities, says Classroom of Hope’s CEO Duncan Ward.

“This started as an aid programme but will go on to have real commercial opportunities.”

 

GO DEEPER

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Markus Silfverberg

Founder & Chairman, Block Solutions

Phil Turtle

National president, Australia Indonesia Business Council

Duncan Ward

Founder & CEO, Classroom of Hope

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