Chile’s push to transform trash into building material

A simple idea that turns household garbage into bricks is being used in projects around the country.  

In the small town of Mejillones, wedged between the vast Pacific Ocean and the world’s driest desert, the Atacama, children compete among each other as they try to pick up the most trash from the street.
These kids are inspired by an ingeniously simple idea that is taking hold in communities all across Chile, and could have a huge impact in the way that this country, and countries around the world, deal with their refuse.
Its called “ecoladrillo,” or “bottle brick” in English – normal plastic bottles filled with paper, plastic or any of the thousands of non-biodegradable products that get thrown into landfill every year, or worse, thrown into the street.
Bottle bricks are so simple they can be made by anyone, and yet form a sturdy building material that can be used to construct houses, walls, chairs, wells or pizza ovens – that is, anything that can be built with bricks.
And because they aren’t brittle, bottle bricks are less likely to break from shocks, a definite advantage in a country as seismically active as Chile.
For the children of Mejillones, the bottle bricks are being used to build an entire plaza.
The plaza in Mejillones is a project led by the community group La Casa de la Joventud (The Youth House) along with university and high school students.
This kind of project demonstrates one of the main strengths of the bottle brick idea: it is a technology that requires neither skilled technicians nor a lot of money, just a little effort and some trash.
At the same time, it has enormous potential to engage the resources and global reach of some of the world’s largest companies, keen to improve their image by putting their waste products to good use.
An example of a multinational corporation working with local groups to put the bottle brick technology to use can be seen on Rapa Nui, or Easer Island – the most remote inhabited island on earth.
On this tiny Chilean island, the Santiago-based eco-design company Sustenta has recently begun building the Municipal Department of the Environment out of bottle bricks, with the support of Coca-Cola.
The best news is that anyone can get involved in these projects.
To make a bottle brick, simply keep the plastic bottles you use (of any size) and fill them with clean and dry non-organic material. Use a stick to compact the trash as much as is possible.
If you are in Mejillones you can help build the Plaza Salvador Allende by taking your bricks to La Casa de la Juventud on Ongolmo 554.
People in Santiago can take their bottle bricks to Sustenta on Jorge VI 667, Las Condes. Sustena also does home collections for people with more than 10 bottle bricks. To arrange a pick-up, write to f.mendezde@gmail.com, or call either +56 9 6228 4908  or +56 6228 4911.
And if there are no groups working with bottle bricks in your area….then you’ll have to start one yourself!