Plastic brick houses: This company is rebuilding communities using old plastic. (Video)
Categories: Homes / Dwellings, Green
The technology is based on a genius idea from New Zealand-based inventor Peter Lewis, who is a principal engineer with the company. His process involves a modular platform that compresses plastic debris into blocks of various shapes and densities, based on custom settings. The result is called RePlast, the company’s name for the recycled plastic building material. The RePlast system is portable, designed to run on gas or electric, and doesn’t require the plastic to be sorted or washed.
“It’s all about timing,” says Gregor Gomory, CEO of ByFusion, a startup he believes is about to take advantage of a “perfect storm” brewing as the world wakes up to the enormous problem of plastic waste filling up our oceans.
By now, we’ve all heard the statistics: By 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The 4-12 million tonnes of plastic that is spewed into our waters ever year is a problem that can no longer be ignored.
In the throes of developing a process for creating construction blocks out of straw bales – and filled with TV news images of his beautiful country’s ocean-waste mountain – New Zealand-based inventor and engineer Peter Lewis had a light-bulb moment: What if all of this plastic waste could somehow be put to good use? He played around with some ideas and soon realised that plastic boasted similar thermal properties to straw bales and, if presented in the right way, could be used in construction, too. A prototype technology was created, but for a “variety of reasons” the idea stalled due to fundraising issues.
Fast-forward several years and Gomory and his team have well and truly revived the concept and, buoyed by a landscape of renewed interest in environmentalism – the “perfect storm” he describes – are finally realising Lewis’ original vision.
“We purchased the IP and developed a platform to bring the concept to the US and to do things at a much larger scale; our timing was much better,” Gomory says, pointing to a waste management sector still reeling from plummeting oil prices and finding it more expensive to sell recycled plastic than it is for manufacturers to make it.
So now, ByFusion takes plastic waste in any shape or form, feeds it into its machine (kind of like a giant washing machine) and creates blocks, known as RePlast. These are the same size and shape as the conventional concrete blocks most commonly used in US construction projects.
And while they are not able to carry out the same job as concrete (after all, they are still made out of plastic and will compress under heavy weight), it is their thermal properties that are most exciting.
“RePlast blocks have incredible thermal characteristics in terms of sound and heat transfer,” Gomory says. “We envisage using them with normal building frames as fill. Our initial testing shows that they blow traditional cement blocks out of the water.”
RePlast can also be used in road works or in community projects. In fact, that’s where Gomory sees the most potential: “In theory, we’re looking at an absolute definition of a circular economy, whereby plastic waste washing up in local communities gets processed and used in local community centres or on roadways.”