What Are Ecobricks and How Can You Use Them?

Updated: Jul. 11, 2023

Find out how to transition single-use plastic into building materials at home for free with our handy guide to ecobricking.

Ecobricks are a seemingly efficient solution to some of our single-use plastic issues, but they’re not actually a new concept.

One day I was researching sustainability, some out-of-the-box ways to tackle non-biodegradable waste, when I discovered this fun little fact. Did you know, 200 years ago in Nevada, people were making building blocks from glass bottles filled with sand? And some people today are doing something similar— but with a green twist?

We’ve swapped glass bottles with plastic ones. And the sand? That’s been replaced by our plastic waste! We’re calling these new-age building blocks ‘ecobricks.’ They serve as an ingenious solution to two critical environmental problems: Plastic pollution, and the increasing demand for affordable building materials.

What Is Ecobricking?

At its core, “ecobricking” turns a problem into a solution. It reimagines how we handle single-use plastics, an environmental menace that often ends up in our oceans, crowds our landfills and gives off toxic fumes in incineration plants.

Ecobricking gives discarded plastic items a second life, transforming them into versatile building blocks. It’s a form of plastic sequestration that has a positive impact on the planet, instead of a neutral one.

The best part? Whether you’re a homeowner sorting your recycling, a teacher in a classroom educating students about sustainability, or an office manager trying to reduce your company’s carbon footprint, you can participate in ecobricking. It’s an accessible, practical solution to a global issue, enabling everyone, everywhere, to play their part in protecting our planet.

How To Make an Ecobrick

So, what does it take to create an ecobrick? The simplicity is part of its appeal.

  1. Collect materials: Find a clean, dry plastic bottle. The size can vary, but a standard 1.5-liter soda bottle works great. Simultaneously, start gathering your non-biodegradable waste. This could be anything from plastic bags, plastic film, straws and packaging, to those tiny annoying bits of plastic that seem to be part of every product we purchase today.
  2. Make sure everything’s clean and dry: This is vital. If you use wet or dirty plastic, there’s a strong chance of bacterial growth, which is a health hazard. And the buildup of gases can eventually cause the cap to pop off your ecobrick, releasing toxins into the surrounding area and rendering the brick unusable. Plus, it’s just plain gross. If you can go to the trouble of making an ecobrick, you can take an extra few minutes to rinse and dry the plastic. After rinsing, hang your plastic to air-dry if you prefer.
  3. Start packing: Twist your plastic waste into a tight spiral, then insert it into the bottle. Use a stick or something similar to compress the waste as tightly as possible. The denser the ecobrick, the more stable and useful it is. Keep adding waste until you’ve filled the bottle all the way to the brim. It might take a few days or even weeks to fill your bottle.
  4. Cap it off: Once you’ve filled the bottle completely and can’t fit in more, it’s time to screw on the cap. This seals in the waste and completes your ecobrick. And voilĂ ! You’ve just made your first ecobrick. Take a moment to appreciate you’ve taken a significant step toward reducing your environmental footprint.

How Can You Use an Ecobrick?

Ecobricks can be used as building blocks in small-scale construction projects like furniture, gardens and even buildings. They are also excellent educational tools, teaching children about recycling and sustainability.

  1. Building and construction: Ecobricks can be used in structures, including homes like Earthships, as long as they’re fully covered by wattle and daub, cob or similar materials to protect against all forms of plastic degradation, particularly UV exposure. They can also be the primary building material for benches, garden walls or play structures for children. Here are a few tips for disposing of construction waste.
  2. Gardening: Use ecobricks to create raised garden beds or boundaries for your plants. They can also serve as a base for vertical gardening structures, perfect for those with limited space. Know that after a few years, UV exposure can break down the plastic and release potentially harmful chemicals into the soil and water table. So keep the plastic covered or replace it every couple of years.
  3. Art and decoration: The bright colors of plastic waste can make ecobricks aesthetically pleasing. You can create beautiful outdoor mosaics, sculptures or interior design elements for a unique, environmentally-conscious aesthetic.

Potential Drawbacks of Ecobricks

Despite the clear benefits, ecobricks have a few potential drawbacks.

Critics argue ecobricking may unintentionally promote plastic use by offering a seemingly easy solution to the plastic waste problem. They also raise concerns about the durability and safety of ecobrick constructions and the lack of proper recycling facilities for ecobricks once they’ve degraded and can no longer be used.

Plus, as mentioned above, plastic exposed to UV rays and the elements over time can degrade and leech chemicals into the soil and water.

Ecobricking doesn’t address the root cause of plastic pollution: our dependency on single-use plastics. To truly tackle this crisis, we need to reduce, reuse and recycle our waste, while lobbying for systemic changes in how goods are packaged and sold.