Tag Archives: plastic

Ubuntu-blox block’s latest version is now ready

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.

We start construction at EandHweek today!

No April Fools joke.  Today we install the foundation and start placing the Ubuntu-Blox for the Kenya/Omyonga house.  We will be working there all weekend and next week to get it all done so visitors can see what a house made with plastic refuse can be like.

Monday evening we will pick up Patti Stouter at the airport.  She is flying in from New York State to have a ton of fun building the Kenya/Omyonga house.  http://www.simpleearthstructures.com/about.php  She is going to help us formulate and apply earth plaster over the blocks.  She has suggested we mix the plaster the same way it will be done in some of the developing nations where the Ubuntu-Blox is designed to help.  We will lay out a tarp on the ground, add the ingredients, local soil, sand, straw, horse manure, and water.  It is mixed with our feet.

So if you want to do some walking without going anywhere and getting high on life, be there, or be square.

A Plea for help

We have been honored by an invitation to display at a very important event in Dallas in April.  As of right now we plan on having a finished shelter designed by Ronald Omyonga.  He will design and we will build an example of a shelter made for Nairobi Kenya.  We also want to have at least one plastic block press onsite with materials for visitors to participate in making recycled plastic blocks.

As most of you already know styrofoam and film (grocery sacks) plastics are not wanted for traditional recycling.  At most recycling centers that handle home pick up recycling these items are sorted and then sent to the landfill.  Allied Waste aka Republic Recycling center in Plano Texas will give me recyclable plastics for the blocks.  I don’t want to use that because I want to use the stuff that is destined for the landfill.

That’s where I need help.  If you live in the north east of Dallas area, close to Wylie, and you want to participate I want your film plastics, grocery bags etc.  I also want your clean styrofoam stuff.  This can be anything from peanuts used in packing, the big foam blocks that protect electronics during shipping, to go foam dishes and cups, foam and film plastic packages for groceries like meats and vegetables, and let’s not forget those foam egg cartons. 

I want them clean if at all possible.  It won’t take you but a minute to rinse them off before you bag them for me.  The reason for that is the blocks made with these products will be handled by the public, specifically college students. 

As more information becomes available we will pass it on about the event.  It is an unbelievable opportunity for us and we want it to take full advantage of the exposure.  If we can build the shelter and demonstrate with stuff destined for the landfill because it doesn’t already have recyclable value it will be even better.

One more thing, we get about two  to two and a half blocks from each large green plastic trash bag of material.  If you want to see the process and participate making blocks we would appreciate that help too.  Especially if you bring along the kiddos.  That would be the best thing of all, starting them young to be responsible consumers and citizens. 

One other thing while you’re feeling so generous, I want to share some of these blocks with the public for them to use to share the vision of making homes for the third world that are good homes.  Not just shelters, homes.

The First Wall

I built the first wall yesterday.  I wanted it to be portable so that I can move it around if necessary.  So instead of building a concrete foundation I built one out of steel.  The objective is to build the wall.

The wall is six feet long and four foot high.  It has a two by six that is six feet long as a top plate. 

As of right now, Feb 22, 2011, I can’t see a secure wall created with the recycled plastic blocks without rebar verticals.  For this wall I placed two at each end spaced the same distance apart as the wire that is securing the blocks.  I also placed two mid span that will fit outside of the plastic blocks.

The bottom course of blocks was placed on the foundation.  Then I placed doubled fourteen gauge galvanized steel wire between the end rebar verticals.  Each block was secured at least one to each doubled wire with a wire tie.  Then I placed a doubled fourteen gauge glavanized steel wire across the mid span rebar verticals with the end to end wires passing between.

The wire ties to the blocks were the only wires secured tightly at this point.  After two more courses were laid down on top of the bottom course I went back and pulled and tightened the wires between all the different rebars.  This post tensioning step that is critical.  The blocks are lightweight.  They won’t stay in place without the wire.  They won’t be secured in place without the tightening of the wires.  Once the wires are tightened the wall becomes substantial feeling.  I repeated the process of tightening the course two courses below as I added each new course.

There has to be a top plate for attaching the roof.  The top plate is also critical for the recycled plastic block wall to make it more secure.  I used screws into the steel when securing the top plate to the wall in this sample.  In a concrete foundation there needs to be loops placed for securing the top plate to the wall.

I used the tensioning tool we designed to tighten the wires securing the recycled plastic blocks to tighten the top plate wire.  The top plate wire goes over the top plate from one side of the foundation to the other.  The effect is amazing.  It is also necessary because the blocks are so lightweight.

I put some plaster on the wall to see how it would work.  It will work great as you can see.

Progress has been made

It seems like only yesterday while at the same time it seems like it was last year when Ronald Omyonga challenged me to come up with a building product from plastic trash.  The reality is today, February 20, 2011 is day 104.  Less than a hundred days ago I woke up dreaming of making building blocks by baling them like one would bale straw or hay.  Seventy days ago we made our first block.  Today we made our first half block.  Half blocks are just as important as full blocks.

We need half blocks because our full blocks can’t be cut without losing their integrity.  We can’t use standard staggering of blocks to create structural strength without having half blocks.  Now we have a method for making half blocks.

What I wanted was a spacer that would displace half of a block in the recycled plastic block press.  I thought about it for awhile and this is what we have.

A single pin attaches it to the compression plate.  A nail, cotter key, or even a piece of wire is all it takes to hold it in place because the only pressure is the weight of the spacer itself on retraction.

The more I work with this press the more I like it.  I’ve fielded lots of questions about automating it with hydraulics.  I’m using an impact wrench instead of a ratchet to speed up the compression process.  It’s every bit as fast as a hydraulic method and it isn’t near as expensive to build or maintain.  All I need is a compressed air source and an impact wrench and the process goes fast.

Often I get the question about how to hold the small stuff like  plastic bottle caps, medicine bottles, single serving yogurt containers, etc. in the blocks.  I put them in plastic bags and then put the plastic bag into the press.  Here’s a good example of how it works.  I have a large plastic dog food bag.  I also have large pieces of styrofoam that was used in packaging flat screen television sets.  I broke down the styrofoam into pieces about eight to ten inches long.  They were still fat and wide, just not real long.  I put those into the plastic dog food bag.  I put that into the press.  I jumped up and down on the bag to get it to fit into the press.  Then I compressed it along with some bottles and other stuff.  I had a half block.

I like the idea that it takes imagination and skill to properly load the press to make good blocks.  That means some people are going to be better at doing that than others will.  The job of loading the plastic into the press will be a source of growth and pride for those that are good at it.  That’s a very good thing.  I’m not one of those people and I’m okay with that.  Those that find the job of loading the plastic rewarding would probably not like at all doing what makes me happy when it comes to working.

As I said a little earlier, the more I work with this the more I like it.  I’m working on a method for placing the blocks that I believe will not only make the recycled plastic block a good way to build houses, it will make the recycled plastic building block a great way to build houses.

American Preppers radio interview

January 28, 2011 I was interviewed by Tom Martin for an hour about the recycled plastic block housing.  It was his first show and my first radio interview.  He did well. 

It’s about an hour long.  If you have questions you might find answers. 


Recycled Plastic Block wall drawing

Dr. Owen Geiger has sent us drawings of  an engineered wall using recycled plastic blocks.

The first drawing has elevation showing foundation, windows, and doorways.  Click on the drawing to make it larger

Dr. Geiger shows using horizontal wall reinforcement.  (click on drawing to make full size 

Horizontal (Joint) CMU Wall Reinforcement:    (link to source of drawing below)

    1. Purposes:To strengthen the wall against “bowing” in due to lateral pressure (earth, wind, seismic)
    2. To make the wall more ductile (i.e., less brittle) and hold it together in extreme events such as earthquake or hurricane.

        b.  Horizontal joint reinforcement consists of heavy wire welded together to take the shape of a ladder (or truss), and is usually selected as follows:


    1. 10 Gage wire – for light duty interior or exterior applications
    2. 9 Gage wire – standard duty
    3. 8 Gage – heavy duty for use in seismic or other high-stress applications
    4. 3/16″ diameter wire – extra heavy duty for extreme conditions

        c.  Horizontal joint reinforcement placed in horizontal mortar joints as follows:


    1. Placed in every CMU course if used for foundation wall
    2. Placed every 2 or 3 courses for above-ground walls (or more if necessary)

The Recycled Plastic Block doesn’t have cavities for vertial supports like CMU blocks have.

Vertical CMU Wall Reinforcement:   (link to source of information below)

  1. Purpose – Greatly strengthen the wall to accommodate larger vertical loads as well as resist lateral loads.
  2. Vertical CMU wall reinforcement consists of inserting steel rebar (usually #4 or #5 rebar) into open cores of the wall, then filling those cores solid with a concrete-like grout.

We get the same vertical support by placing the rebar outside of the Recycled Plastic Blocks in our walls.  (see Dr. Geiger’s drawing at the top of the page)  The rebar is tied to the blocks it contacts and to the opposite rebar with wire ties.

We are working to get a local engineering school involved in the Recycled Plastic Blocks.  One of the facets of the Recycled Plastic Block wall that we want to study is the R value provided by the plastic blocks inside a plastered wall.  Intutition suggests that it will  provide a greater R value than CMU block construction.

3.  Possible disadvantages of CMU buildings: (link to information below)

  1. Expensive labor – CMU construction is labor-intensive. Depending on localities, labor CAN be very expensive.
  2. Heavy – Masonry buildings weigh more than comparable steel-framed and wood-framed buildings.
  3. Absorbent – CMU, like any other cementitious material is absorbent to water penetration and must be weather-proofed.
  4. Modular – Typical CMU has modular 8″ x 8″ x 16″ nominal dimensions, and is a bit difficult to have walls that have odd dimensions or smooth curves.
  5. Difficult to insulate – Block has a very low “R” value and generally, walls must be insulated by adding width to them – decreasing available floor square footage.

Most of the disadvantages of the CMU block construction don’t apply to the Recycled Plastic Block concept.

Anniversary of sorts, January 10

November 10, 2010 was when I heard Ronald Omyonga talk about holistic housing at the Beck building in downtown Dallas for the Hunt Institute.  It was afterwards that he challenged me to come up with a product that could be used for housing construction and create commerce out of plastic trash.

December 10, 2010 was my first post on harveylacey.com about bottle bricks.

In two months time one thing after another has fallen into place.  We have the product, we have a working machine, and we have things coming together faster than we ever could have imagined.

It is amazing.