The original Ubuntu-blox was made with all kinds of plastic trash into a block with a two wire restraining feature. We realized that a third wire was needed in the middle between the two outside wires and modified the machine and process to accommodate that concept.
We made the blocks then with all kinds of plastics and the three wire retaining system. It was about that time we were asked by Stephanie Hunt of the Hunt Institute at Southern Methodist University to build a house using Ubuntu-blox for the their Engineering and Humanity Week of April 2011.
As we thought about the house to build for the Hunt Institute we realized that using all kinds of plastics meant we were creating a diversion from successful existing plastic recycling programs in North Texas. Curbside recycling was already picking up bottles and all plastics except for foam and film plastics. Foam and film plastics were not being recycled in what we felt were honest recycling programs. We decided to use foam and film plastics in our blocks for building the Ubuntu-blox house for the Hunt Institute’s Engineering and Humanity Week.
That combination of the single purpose shopping bags, the ones that are so popular now in the banning industry, and foam plastics readily available have shown to be the most cost effective method of building the blocks. Each block contains approximately twenty to thirty film plastic shopping bags and three cubic feet of foam plastics. The only cost for materials for the block is the wire retaining the block shape and providing the attachment system for making the walls. The cost of the wire was less than twenty cents per block.
When I got to Haiti August of 2011 I found out that the single purpose film plastic bags were not available in the quantity needed for making the blocks. There was an unbelievable amount of foam plastics available in the form of dinnerware, trays and cups, but a very limited amount of film plastics. We had access to some rice bag material also known as sand bag material. It was in bulk because it is what is used in Super Adobe construction. We could cut the rice bag material in five foot lengths, fill it with shredded foam plastics, and make a great Ubuntu-blox.
I went back to Haiti March of 2012 and we used the rice bag material and the wire to make the blocks. One of the heart breaks for me during that visit was watching the Haitian ladies straighten twisted wire we were getting for free from a recycling center. They spent as much time straightening out the wire as they did making the blocks, maybe more.
There was also another reality, cost. Purchased new the wire cost about twenty cents per block. The rice bag material cost another fifty to sixty cents per block. We had an awesome block but it was out of line cost wise.
When I came home to Texas I purchased some electrician pulling line to see if it would work as well as the wire for retaining the block shape. It does. The cost is considerably less and it is a lot easier to work with. The cost of the block was still way too high, fifty to sixty cents per block for the rice bag material, and the cost of the string was almost ten cents per block.
One of the experts and a good friend in the pursuit of making the world a better place is Patti Stouter. Google her and be impressed. She has been after me to look at other materials for making the blocks besides the rice bag material. The biggest obstacle in finding a suitable substitute that was available in the amount required was it seemed all to come out of the far east.
Sheer happenstance provided me with a local manufacturer here that could not only provide me with the line I needed but they also manufactured film plastic tubing in weights and diameters I could use. Using their materials I can now make a block with a cost of less than fifteen cents. That’s for the line for retaining the block shape and a tubing for containing the foam and film plastics.
If you take best case scenarios using rice bag and wire in Haiti to make the blocks you are looking at $195.00 to make a 150sf house using 300 blocks. Using the new materials that cost is $43.50. That is $150.00 per house savings.