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What Are Ecobricks—And Can They Help Solve Our Plastic Waste Problem?

Are ecobricks really a potential building block to solving our plastic waste problem? Here's everything you should know.

Written by
Jenna Mignano

Plastic waste is a clearly concerning area of pollution in nearly every country. It takes centuries to break down, and it's being produced at an incomprehensibly rapid rate.

A staggering 91% of plastic doesn't get recycled. So alongside advancing efforts to slow plastic creation and build stronger recycling systems, we still need to find ways to put the plastic that's already been created to use.

TikTok users have been talking about something they say could make a difference: ecobricking. In fact, the hashtag #ecobricks has garnered more than 32 million views. But, the topic can be controversial: Can a plastic water bottle stuffed with more plastic really help change the world? Let's dive in.

What Is an Ecobrick?

Ecobricks are a way to re-package plastic waste so that it becomes usable as a sturdy building block. Essentially, you take a plastic bottle of any size and stuff it to the brim with plastic waste.

Common bottle choices include single-use juice bottles, one or two-liter soda bottles, and water bottles. The finished product can be used for all sorts of projects, including building chairs, tables, walls, and more.

"Ecobricks are a great way to mitigate the amount of plastic you're sending to the landfill," says Lacey, the sustainability educator behind @learnwithlaceyyy. "Typically I choose plastics that are harder to recycle, or can't be recycled where I live. It's a great way to extend the life of single-use plastics."

Currently, there are three types of ecobricks: regular ecobricks, ocean ecobricks, and cigbricks. Regular ecobricks are your normal PET bottles. Ocean ecobricks are made specifically with plastic found on the beach or near a body of water. And cigbricks are made from plastic for cigarette filters.

But while ecobricks sound like they're making a difference, there are mixed opinions on whether they're actually helpful or not.

Are Ecobricks Solving Our Plastic Waste Problem?

Many people agree that by creating ecobricks, you're keeping plastic waste out of the biosphere and oceans because putting non-recyclable, already-created trash to constructive use.

These "bricks" are inspiring millions of TikTok users to take on the daunting challenge of fighting plastic waste, whether they're collecting their own household's plastic or hosting a trash pickup in their communities. It's also a great way to see just how much plastic waste you're producing.

Here's where things often get controversial: "The bottles used in ecobricks are typically made of the most recyclable types of plastics," says Alaina Wood, the sustainability scientist and climate communicator behind @thegarbagequeen. "And many of the types of plastics people stuff in these bottles can be recycled as well, but I understand that's not the case everywhere."

Some people have mentioned the potential for sending ecobricks abroad for building projects. First of all, Wood says even if they can be used in projects overseas, it still doesn't mean we're managing our waste properly. "We're just pushing it off to another country in the name of charity," she says.

In addition, there may be downsides to using plastics to build certain structures. "They may not be that sustianable, because plastics can leach chemicals and shed microplastics when exposed to the elements," she adds.

Overall, ecobricks aren't going to solve our plastic waste problem—we still have a long way to go on that front. But if you want to make ecobricks out of non-recyclable plastic waste and use them in your local area—or in your own backyard—go ahead and give it a try.

How to Make an Ecobrick

First, obtain a clean and dry plastic bottle of any size. Remove all labeling. Then, thoroughly clean and dry hard and soft plastic scraps that will fit through the cap area of your bottle.

Next, add a singular colored plastic to the bottom of the bottle so that the ecobrick will be more aesthetically pleasing and have a higher likelihood of reusability.

Tightly pack the bottle with your plastic scraps, using a stick to compact each layer. Be sure to avoid adding biodegradables, glass, and metal. Once full, screw on the cap tightly.

Once you've assembled enough ecobricks, find the building project that suits your goals best—and get to building!

Potential Uses for Ecobricks

Arguably the most popular structures to create are called Milstein Modules. These structures are versatile—they can be combined to become tables, chairs, beds, and more. They've also been used to create larger-scale projects, like a raised planting bed or the walls of houses and schools

As we previously mentioned, ecobricks won't solve all of our problems. With that being said, ecobricking can be a great way to engage with your community and get people thinking about their waste.