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As the world drowns in plastic waste, can we recycle our way to sustainable construction?

The nearly indestructible plastic we use every day is discarded on an inconceivable and uncontrollable scale. With the world's surface suffocating under the growing wastelands of plastics we are now searching for a solution to this highly visible global pollution.

The world produces approximately 359 million tonnes of plastic each year. These plastics are unable to biodegrade at a rate fast enough to prevent harm to our environment.

We are all aware that plastics are at this rate unsustainable and highly pollutant for all of Earth’s inhabitants.

So how do we address our plastic problem?

And, as the price of raw materials escalates, could recycling plastic into construction material help?

Why on earth wouldn’t plastic building blocks become part of a more sustainable future?

Kirsty Hammond Kirsty Hammond Publisher of Specifier Review

Sustainable plastic?

The UK alone uses 5 million tonnes of plastics but only 7% of that waste is recycled. Plastics have many useful attributes and it is possible that disused plastics could be turned into a reliable and sustainable building material.

Plastics are strong, lightweight, waterproof and durable and in conjunction to these essential properties are also easy to mould and recycle. Think Lego!

Examples of successful industrial recycling include PET, or poly(ethylene therephtalate), which is used to make soft drinks bottles, and polystyrene.

However, building materials made from recycled plastics are not yet widely used in the construction industry – prototypes have mainly been used for demonstrative installations.

Where there’s a will

It will take political will and widespread environmental awareness to encourage more investment into the potential of plastics in recycling. Both vision and innovation are needed to harness this innovation.

It is important to continue forward with the momentum that is driving many new processes in construction. Both sustainable design, green building principles and circular recycling economy are key to a successful future on planet earth.

Durable bricks with multiple uses - ByFusion has developed a process that allows our discarded plastics to be recycled into usable building blocks that mimic the size and shape of a typical CMU block. The block reuses six out of the 7 types of plastics that are most commonly disposed of.

The blocks are made using superheated water, the plastic is then compressed and shaped into durable bricks. The plastic waste is clearly visible in the finished formed block.

Packaging, water bottles, and single use plastics.

“We have been working hard over the past several years to develop an innovative system to help the recycling industry address the plastic waste crisis by being able to recycle plastics that were previously considered unrecyclable,” CEO Heidi Kujawa ByFusion

The company has created a mobile machine that can be delivered to site on a flatbed, and used locally to produce building materials for each project. The shape and density of each block can be fully customised to suit. Even the water needed for the process is recycled and reused!

No glues or adhesives are required which means you save time with quicker installation. The blocks will not crack or crumble like standard concrete blocks and they follow the Zero waste process – 1 ton of plastic makes 1 ton of ByBlock and no specialised labour is required.

These blocks can be used for retaining walls, non-load bearing, fencing, furniture and in the future let’s hope, even more.

Harnessing the value

The ByBlock is supported by Rebar. Each unit stacks neatly and the blocks cleverly contribute 95% less greenhouse gas emission than concrete and has both a high thermal and acoustic insulation rating.

Currently the blocks are only suitable for small load applications but in the future the company plans to expand its manufacturing capabilities.

Sustainable architecture has to be our future, with zero-energy buildings being at the forefront. A zero energy building is highly efficient and whose energy comes from 100% renewable sources giving them a energy balance of zero.

So why on earth wouldn’t plastic building blocks become part of a more sustainable future?

A way to reduce, reuse, recycle and harness the value of what is currently a huge waste, literally.

Kirsty Hammond is publisher of Specifier Review