Tag Archives: plastic trash

Dirt, plastic trash, and the goodness of humanity

Yesterday I was able to experience one of those days that make a lifetime.  The walls are done and the earthen plaster is being applied to the exterior.  Roof is in place and will be finished this morning.  We will continue with the exterior plaster and start plastering the interior.

The most amazing thing for me is the joy others bring to the project.  Young, old, or in that place in between, they all get a grin on their faces that is wonderful to see when they talk to the group working on the house.

Go to Ubuntu-Blox on facebook and win a smile.  You deserve it.

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.

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.

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.

It’s the wire that makes it all work

One of the most common comments I get are about the use of the wire in making the block.  Usually heat or chemicals are suggested to make the block without the wire.

That is being done.  Peter Lewis in New Zealand is an aeronautical engineer and licensed architect.  Mr. Lewis has millions of dollars and about twelve years invested in his Byfusion system.  Watch the videos, read the story, you will be impressed.  A small Byfusion recycling machine will cost about $600,000.00 US.  It takes one kilowatt of electricity to make one block.  When volume is a consideration the Byfusion system is probably the most viable one out there.  Peter Lewis is a genius.

Our manual machine makes a compressed plastic block without any electricity or petrochemical fuels.  It transforms seven pounds of plastic trash into a seven pound building block, ten pounds of plastic trash into a ten pound building block.  There is no waste or loss of material in the compressing of the plastic into a recycled plastic building block.  It is one hundred percent efficient, ounce of trash, ounce of building block, no carbon based energy consumed.

I woke up from a sleep baling plastic blocks with wire.  That’s not genius.  That’s dreaming.  As I thought about it I realized that wire not only was perfect for holding the shape of the block, it also presented the best method to form a wall with the baled plastic blocks.  A couple of things need to be considered here.  One of them is my mind wasn’t working in a vacuum.  I knew wire was used to bale hay and straw.  The other was I  knew wire was used to help hold bales of straw together in strawbale houses.  Wire is also used to strengthen earth bag houses.

I appreciate that the recycled plastic block construction concept is difficult for most people to grasp.  That’s because most people aren’t familiar with earthbag home construction, strawblale houses, and compressed earth blocks for housing.  Those who are familiar with those methods of building shelters understand the recycled plastic block is another variation of what has been done to build shelters since mankind left caves and needed protection from the elements and predators.

The alternative to wire is either a mortar like conventional concrete and stone walls are put together.  Or there is the mortise and tenon fit method that offers a mechanical connection. Byfusion and Oryzatech use that approach.  Oryzatech also uses a contact type cement as I understand it.  So it uses the mortise and tenon and mortar approach to stack blocks to make walls.

I wasn’t able to form the recycled plastic blocks where the mortise and tenon approach would work.  Using all seven grades of plastic trash ruled out the use of a polymer answer to connecting the blocks in a wall.  So I was stuck with wire and re-bar.

This turned out to be a very good thing as I see it now.  The wire provides a more flexible connection than mortar or mortise and tenon connections do.  It also provides a stronger connection.  The wire method allows more creative shapes and designs of walls without sacrificing the integrity of the connections.  The wire connection I believe is in our genes too.  Before we stacked rocks I’ll bet we were tying limbs and grasses to make shelters.

The wire is what makes this system work.  It holds the shape of the block during and after it is placed in a wall.  The durability of the galvanized wire has been questioned.  The link suggests that it will last inside the wall almost as long as the plastic used to make the block.  It simplifies the construction process labor and material wise.  It takes less skill to build a shelter with wire than it does to lay a concrete block wall with mortar.  Concrete and mortar usually use cements that are not made locally.  They also consume petrochemical and electrical energy to produce, transport, and to build with.

Another day in paradise

Before we bumped the table and the camera fell, fatal screw up on its part….

We were having an awesome day.  After that it was just a really good day for inventing in general.

This is the bottom of the new block box, alpha 2 I guess we can call it.  The two pieces of angle iron or for the future stand that will support the block box.  The three pieces of flat stock welded in the middle are to keep it from spreading when compressing a block.  The angle iron is 2″ X 2″ X 1/4″ .  The flat bar stock is 1/4″ X 2″.  The spacing is even spaces, about eight and  a half inches as I recall.

I cannibalized the ram and screw mechanism from the original block box press for the new one.  Here it is installed and ready for compressing the first block.   The next picture is of the business side of the ram with the wires in place.  The next picture is from the other end.  Notice the wires coming out of the bottom.

This is pre-compression chamber I made.  Basically it smashes the material a bit before I put it into the block box press.  I just put the stuff in there and pound it down with a sledge.  Works great.

With the ram back as far as possible I filled up the box press with plastic trash.  Most of it had been through the pre-compression tool.  Then I put on the cover.  I haven’t put on the permanent lid because I wanted to make sure that the new press worked first.  Once the lid was on I ran the screw down all the way as you can see here.

When I pulled back the ram this is what you could see at the other end of the block press.

I added some more plastic and ran the ram down one more time.

This is the good part.  I removed the cover plate. and pulled the wires up for tensioning with my tensioning tool.

First the wire is pushed through the eye or loop at the ram end of the block.  Then that slot you see on the bottom of the tension tool is pushed through the eye or loop and down the wire about five inches.  The loose end of the wire coming through the eye or loop is folded over the handle of the tension tool.  Then the tool is pushed over the eye or loop towards the end of the block.  This action pulls the wire to the loop tightening it.  When the tool folds the wire over the eye the wire is tight.  If it isn’t the tool can be relocated and it can be done again until the wire is tight.

This is when I broke the camera.  So I don’t have any pictures of the finished block.  First thing, the three wire block is a much better block.  Second thing, removing the block was much easier with the tapered sides.  I believe this design will be the final design.  There might be some tweaks but this thing here works.  I’ll get the top hinged and come up with an exact material list and dimensions so that others can copy it if they want.

I’m getting a lot of suggestions about using hydraulics to make it easier, faster and better.  My concern at this point in time is to prove that a wired recycled plastic block is a viable building material.  People a lot smarter than I am will come up with making the blocks faster and easier.  I’ll leave that up to them.