A South African design centre is perfecting a process that turns plastic waste into brick-like blocks for construction. The Centre for Regenerative Design and Collaboration (CRDC) is converting disposed plastic products into strong blocks called EcoArena pre-conditioned resin aggregate.
Plastic waste is ground into small plastic particles that are mixed with a sand and cement mixture to create a durable and water-resistant brick. This could revolutionise the way we build structures. This upcycling of waste material is cost-efficient and reduces the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills across South Africa.
Plastic building blocks have been used in Costa Rica
Similar plastic bricks have been used successfully in construction projects by a Costa Rican company called Pedregal. The CRDC is working alongside American chemical manufacturer, Dow, to develop the EcoArena blocks and lead the way to upcycle plastic litter. Currently, the blocks are being tested in the Western Cape with two major cement manufacturers.
“In South Africa, there is an established and sophisticated cement industry. Against this, we need to create jobs, we need to clean up the environment and there is an urgent need for housing. Our plan is to use the Costa Rican model to initially launch in the Western Cape before rolling out the initiative nationally,” says CRDC chief executive officer Don Thompson.
According to Thompson, the EcoArena blocks are 10% stronger than conventional cement blocks. They are also between 8% and 16% lighter, which ends up being more cost-effective when it comes to transport and construction.
Plastic blocks are a sustainable alternative
“This breakthrough in transforming plastic and using it in the same way as you would conventional aggregate is a game-changer. Not only can we conduct our business in a more sustainable way but we can also help solve one of the biggest problems we have created as human beings – that of plastic contamination,” says Pedregal sales and marketing director David Zamora.
“This is the very essence of our circular economy – one in which the construction industry is helping the plastic industry solve a waste problem by turning it into a raw material that can be used in any construction on the planet,” he explains. Zamora also notes that these plastic blocks have good thermal properties and equal fire resistance to standard concrete bricks.
The EcoArena plastic building blocks could soon become a common building material for South African construction companies. Such an initiative will also foster relationships between cement manufacturers, contractors and the waste management sector.
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