Two Innovative Ways to Repurpose Single-Use Plastic

If you have read my post about plastic, you already know that plastic is not as bad as it is made out to be. Next to single-use plastic keeping our food fresh for longer, it is helping people in developing countries get access to clean drinking water. Plastic per se is not a bad thing. It’s just the way we are using it nowadays that is turning it into a weapon of mass destruction.

Over the last decades since plastic has been invented, life has increasingly developed into a throw-away society. Unfortunately, single-use plastic is right at the heart of it. The share of single-use plastic produced every year is an astonishing 50% of all plastic that’s being produced annually. That’s 150 million tons of single-use plastic every single year. If we were reusing it, that would mean 150 million tons of a valuable material that is light and lasts for hundreds of years entering our economy. Yet, the average time single-use plastic is being used is less than 15 minutes.

Two solutions to a growing problem

What is needed, next to a reduction of single-use plastic, might be a change in mindset. There a billions of tons of single-use plastic out there. And still we are producing more and more every year. Has anyone ever thought of just reusing or repurposing the material that is already out there? Many companies pride themselves with using a high share of recycled plastic in their products. However, recycling plastics is often not as easy as it sounds. Plastic needs to be cleaned, sorted, and sometimes it can only be downcycled. Expensive recycling plants need to be built, making recycling not easily accessible to poorer communities.

Luckily, there are two amazing initiatives out there currently fighting for a plastic revolution. Ecobricks and Flipflopi have recognized the potential of already-used plastic: It’s cheap, widely available and durable. All three qualities that make single-use plastic so detrimental to our planet. By using them to our advantage though, these initiatives are turning single-use plastic into a cradle-to-cradle product with tons of positive side effects. Let’s see how they are shaping the plastic revolution!

Ecobricks – More than just a brick

Counterintuitive to its name, Ecobricks are actually made out of plastic. Take an empty plastic bottle, stuff it with shopping bags, food wrappers and other soft plastics and voila, you got yourself an Ecobrick! The inventors of these bricks actually use the fact that plastic is a long-lasting and durable material to create reusable bricks for communities all over the world. While this can be a solution to plastic pollution everywhere, it is especially revolutionizing for poorer communities. Since plastic recycling is an often difficult and expensive undertaking, this fast and easy-to-do technique to recycle plastic bottles is a great alternative!

The 𝘗𝘪𝘵𝘶𝘲 𝘊𝘰𝘮𝘮𝘶𝘯𝘪𝘵𝘺 𝘍𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 is only one of many examples to bring Ecobricks to life. They set up operations in Lombok, Indonesia, which is actually the second-largest contributor to ocean plastic pollution in the world. Their project does not only empower individual community members to earn an income by collecting plastic, they also provide people with the building bricks to erect their own houses, schools, gardens, toilets, etc. The foundation also cooperates with local schools to involve kids in their revolution. Teaching them how to build their very own bricks, the children gain awareness of the problem and learn valuable skills on how reusing and recycling plastic works.

Stepping up for the planet

Apart from the social benefits of teaching communities how to create their own plastic bricks, the planet benefits massively. By collecting single-use plastic and containing it in a plastic bottle, the biosphere is saved from potential contamination. Being exposed to the elements or burning it causes plastic to break down and release harmful gases to the atmosphere. By compactly packing soft plastic in the bottle, Ecobricks are effectively keeping plastic safe from degradation and thus harming our environment. They also use a very low amount of energy for production, since all that’s needed is the raw materials and a stick to tightly squeeze plastic into the bottle.

The Global Ecobrick Alliance even goes as far as calling the Ecobrick more than just a simple technology to build houses. They call it a movement. The far-reaching effects of plastic pollution and the failure of governments or corporations to take responsibility for this crisis, left hundreds of thousands of people to take personal responsibility for the plastic they consume. And like every good movement, it’s people-powered and fundamentally non-capital to join. There are free resources available online to share the best practices for creating Ecobricks. Coastal communities even have their own guideline on how to create Ocean Ecobricks. If you want to join or look for Ecobrick communities near you, simply check out their website.

Flipflopi – Giving flip flops a second chance in life 

Another great initiate to combat plastic pollution is Flipflopi. Just like the funny sound of their name, their initial mission was to raise awareness by making people stop and smile. Their boat did way more than that, however. Building a boat made out of recycled flip flops is not a sight one gets to see every day. Especially if people are sailing down the African coast in it!

What the inventors of Flipflopi did was actually build a fliflop dhow which is 10 meters long and weighs about 7 tons. The project was launched in Kenya to conserve the beaches along their coastline by recycling the flip flops that were polluting the area. While the repurposed flip flops forming the body of the boat are the star of the show, the entire boat is actually built from recycled materials like plastic bottles and bags.

In contrast to the Ecobricks, Flipflopi’s primary mission is to educate and raise awareness rather than have everybody build their own boats. By building a second, larger boat, the team hopes to sail around the world and bring important players to a joint table. Connecting corporates, individuals and law-makers, the FlipFlopi may help turn the tide on this global plastic crisis. Their main vision is simple: show how single-use plastic does not make sense and inspire people to repurpose already-used plastic in their own, innovative ways.

If you want to help spread the mission, you can volunteer, sponsor or even book them for a talk. They are also spreading the #plasticrevolution by holding recycling workshops on their boat, as well as doing expeditions and educating school children about plastic recycling.

Let’s start a plastic revolution!

In the end, it doesn’t really matter if you build houses or boats with your old plastic waste. What is more important is to turn single-use plastic into multi-use plastic. In order for us to build a healthy relationship with plastic, the throw-away society eventually has to turn into a cradle-to-cradle or circular economy culture. Plastic does have a lot of positive qualities, which is why it was invented in the first place. Our job now is to recognize them and use them for our advantage instead of the planet’s disadvantage!

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