Tag Archives: recycling

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.

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.

We Made Our First Plastic Block Today

Of course the very first thing we did was test it for supporting weight.

It was quite a day.

Remember we started off with a trailer load of number three thru number seven plastic from the recycling center.  It turns out we had a lot of number one and it is more difficult to work with.  We discovered that number five was great.  We didn’thave any number six and seven, what we eventually want to use for the blocks.  Numbers one and two are valuable for recycling.  They give value to our blocks that isn’t desireable or necessary.  As it has been pointed out to me by others there are those out there that would love to find neatly bundled blocks worth thirty or so cents per lb at the street level recyclers.

We first tried to compress a block and then install the wire into the mold to secure the block.  That didn’t work.  Then we tried to install the wire without thinking it all through.  That worked better but it wasn’t any good. either.  The old adage about “learning more from our mistakes than our successes” is gospel when it comes to projects like this.

We learned a couple of  things with those mistakes.  We needed to add more plastic to the mold to make a more dense block.  We also made up the rod I designed for tightening the wire.  That and making the loops in the wire at the ram end of the mold enabled us to tighten the wire very tight easily.

The trick to tighteing the wire is a loop big enough for the tightening tool to pass through.  The trick to the tightening tools is the slot in the end of the tool.  Basically the way it works is the tool is slid through the loop to a point about four inches after the wire has been pulled hand tight.  The groove end is placed on the wire and then the loose end is folded over the handle of the tool.  The tool pulls the wire through the loop with a lot pressure when the tool is pushed over the loop.

It’s so simple.  Yet it’s so efficient.

The finished block is a nominal 8″ X 8″ X 16″.  I beat it with a hammer, bounced it around.  I like it.  Then we drove the pickup up on it to see how it handles weight.

I’ll be the first to admit that the block is one of those things where beauty can only be in the eye of the beholder.  For me it is beautiful.  That’s because I see a solution to two problems facing us today.  Plastic pollution is a worldwide issue.  Another world wide issue is affordable shelter.  This block addresses both of those issues, it takes trash plastic and makes it into an affordable alternative building material.

I have proven I believe that this block can be produced in the third world’s worst circumstances.

Now I want to take it further.

I want to see a manual model of this machine that is self contained and built for durability.  I want to see that machine manufactured and distributed everywhere alternative housing is needed.

I want to see another model of this machine that is automated for use in the industrialized world.

I would love to be part of all of the above and more.  But for me to do so is going to require financial assistance.  Any ideas for that kind of help is appreciated.

We started the block box today

The day started with a visit to the Republic recycling center in Plano Texas.  There we loaded up some number 3 to number 7 plastics for testing the block box, aka bottle brick machine.  Tommy Kirk is the manager of operations.  He’s a toot, generous toot.  What is refreshing  is everyone that I encountered was in a good mood and friendly.  Evidently his personality and attitude is contagious.

They offered me some free barrels.  They’re number two plastic but too large to process so they gave them to me.  My wife wants some rain barrels so that’s where they might go.  The metal ones are for the farm.

You’re not seeing things.  There is some number one and number two plastics in with the three thru sevens.  Today’s spot price is $420.00 a ton for the one and two plastics, $150.00 a ton for the three thru sevens.

One of the things I’m trying to do with the block box is make it like someone would under more difficult circumstances.  So I’m using common tools, no fancy machine shop lathes, sheet metal shop presses, etc.  I’m also trying to use scrap stuff found around the shop.  So far the only thing I’ve purchased for the block box is the three foot ACME thread rod and nut, $69.00 with shipping.

The block box has to be made for high pressure.  Since I’m not an engineer I’m probably over building it.  And that’s okay, better that than having it break when a couple of thousand pounds of pressure is applied.

One of my concerns is the pathway for the tie wire in the block box.  The width of the box is eight inches, standard width for a building block made of concrete.  I had a fifty one inch piece of five inch channel.  That meant the block box would have a length of fifty one inches.  It also determined that the width between the tie wire would be five inches.

The first thing I did was bend the guides for the tie wires with my portable bender I use on the truck.

I found some two inch heavy wall square tubing.  It worked perfectly with the five inch channel to make the bottom of the block box.  I placed the tie wire guides on each side of the channel and three sixteenths or so below the face of the channel.  I welded bottoms up first.

The tie wires will have to be able to slide down the box as the plastic is being compressed.  That’s why I have the guides in the bottom of the box and the gradual turns going up beyond the end of the box.  We’re not using anything but the tie wires to hold the plastic block’s shape. That’s all I got done today, a round trip to the recycling facility and a little cutting and welding.

One of the most common comments I get on this is about automating the process.  That’s for the smart people to figure out.  What I’m looking to do is provide a method that will work when the people are unskilled, electricity is unavailable. and they want to build a shelter with what they have available that’s cheap or free.

If you Google Haiti, President Clinton you will find a ton of stories about his visit to a recycling center where they use similiar technology to what I have here for making paper briquettes for charcoal cooking.  If they had a couple of machines like the block box they could also make blocks for building shelters to sell.

Another common comment is about the value of some plastics.  I believe the block box block can be made with literally trash plastics, film (shopping bags) and styrofoam.  We might have to have some bottles at the ends but everyting in between I believe can be the stuff that goes to the landfill.