Tag Archives: recycling center

BAD Plastic blocks!

We’re making blocks for an event in April.  They want us to have a model house for attendees to experience.

The guys and gals at Allied Waste Recycling Center in Plano, Texas will give me all the plastic I want to make the blocks.  That is too easy and doesn’t make a loud enough of a statement.  All of the curbside recyclers, Allied Waste included, won’t knowingly take styrofoam or film plastics.  Stryofoam and film plastics are destined for the landfill.  If it is put into the recycle bin for curbside recycling it is sorted out and shipped from there to the land fill.  Unless I find it first.

I wade into that stuff and I pull out the styrofoam.  It takes almost a full large garbage bag’s worth to make one block.  They don’t always have it.  But if they do and I’m there I get it, as much as I can.  I stop at a couple of groceries that allow me to pick up the contents of their recycled plastic bag bins.

This is one morning’s haul.  The styrofoam is in the big green bags and the clear bags are full of film plastics from the grocery stores.

The fun starts at the shop.  I take the grocery bags and put four of them together.  Then I fill the bag with pieces of stryofoam.  When the bag is full I tie the ends together, just like they do at the store when you use the bags for your purchases.

The styrofoam won’t stay together as a block without being contained in the bags.  It’s almost serendipity the way it works.  One bad plastic won’t become a good thing without the other, marvelous.  I’ve also found out that one or two of the bags isn’t enough to hold the styrofoam in place during the compaction process.  So we use four bags.

It takes four bags full of styrofoam to make a half block, six to make a full one.  Believe it or not, I ran out of the grocery bags today before I ran out of styrofoam material today.  I also pack in the big pieces of film plastic I get like the shrink wrap and large plastic wrappings and bags thrown away.

This is a large block ready to wire up.

I’ve put in a plea for clean styrofoam dishes like plates, trays, cups, egg cartons, etc online at different places.  I wanted to get some newspaper coverage with a plea for that stuff but it didn’t work out very well.  So if you look up recycling styrofoam in Dallas, Texas hopefully during your search you will find my begging for the bad stuff.  I need about three hundred large bags full for the model house, sorry landfill, you lose, we win.

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.

Bottle Bricks

This post has been left up for historical reference.  It reflects an opinion based upon the information we had at that time.  We now believe using bottles to make bricks is a misguided endeavor.  Bottles are worth too much for scrap value to be using in blocks.  If bottles become as worthless as foam and film plastics then we might advise using them again.  We doubt that will happen as their scrap value depends upon the current price of crude oil.

A bottle brick is a building block made from empty plastic bottles.  It is a form of recycling plastic bottles.  The bottles are compressed together in a mold.  Depending upon the pressure used to compress the plastic bottles in the mold the brick can be of the density of a bale of straw or it can have the density of a block of concrete.

Quick math suggests one bottle brick will hold approximately ten and  a half twenty four bottle cases of empty one liter water bottles.  Approximately 600 bricks to build a twelve feet by twelve feet room with seven foot high walls.  One such home removes approximately 180,000 empty plastic bottles from the landfills.  That’s 7,500 cases of empty one liter bottles or approximately 6,400 cubic feet of space.  That’s almost the volume of two fifty three foot semi truck trailers, 7,600 cubic feet.  Look at it this way, if the bottles were crumpled to fifty percent volume arriving at the recycling center every truck load could provide the materials for one 144 square foot one room home.

The inspiration for this invention was a speech and later conversation with Ronald Omygon.  Ronald is an architect in Kenya.  His passion is holistic building methods that help the poor with sanitation, drinking water, and housing.  I told him at the meeting that I believed there had to be a way we could tackle the problems with plastic waste and poverty at the same time with the same product.  I just knew that there had to be a product that could be made with plastic refuse.  And that product could be made with simple machinery and the product would be best if it was a new building product that could be installed with local traditional methods.

A week after that meeting I was awakened out of sleep that night with the idea of baling plastic bottles.  I can’t take credit for the idea  because it came to me, I didn’t seek it out, it found me.  The idea was to compress one liter drinking bottles into a block the size of standard adobe brick that is used in the southwest of the United States.

I couldn’t go to sleep after that.  There was too much to think about, so many ideas.  I had to address how to keep the bricks from expanding and falling apart after being removed from the mold or press that manufactured them.  I had to address how and if they would take mortar as a method of joining them together for form a wall.  I also had to figure out the plastic could be isolated from the living area and the exterior elements once the walls were formed.  There was how to form doorways and window openings.  Roofs were another consideration.  And then there was the subsistance level manufacturing if necessary.

That last part, subsistance level manufacturing if necessary, was of critical importance to me.  That’s because I see most of our aid and charity being almost as much of a negative as it is positive once we get beyond emergency relief.  Aid and charity is a horizontal transaction in a world built on vertical transactions.  A lot of the time aid and charity teach help is on the way and you just have to wait for it.  I wanted the bottle brick to be more than that.  I wanted it to be a vertical impetus instead of the traditional horizontal one.

The subsistance level manufacturing is easy.  All I need is a mold or press.  The one I have built in my mind is a three sided affair.  The mold is four inches or so high, width is eight inches or thereabouts, and the length is about two feet even though the finished brick will only be sixteen inches long.  It will be made of steel, simple design.  The compression will be accomplished with leverage.  It will work a little like a tractor jack with its ratcheting action.  You move a lever about five feet long and that movement moves the compression plate an inch or so.  A stop holds the compression plate in the position and the lever is moved once again.  This is done until bottles are compressed into a firm brick about sixteen inches long.

There were two problems with mortar as I saw it.  The first thing was this kind of construction would be perfect for Haiti and Pakistan.  One of the reasons for the horrific destruction in their earthquakes was the mortar fails first and then the walls fall down.  The other was one of the problems with plastic and cement is they don’t bond without special polymers, expensive special polymers.

I had already decided that since I was laminating plastic bottles into a bale then maybe tying it together with wire might be the proven tried and true method.  And since one of the slickest things I had seen was using barbed wire for stabilizing earth bag construction then I could have not only a secure method for attaching the bottle bricks to each other with a system like they use in earth bag.  I would also greatly reduce the potential for damage in an earthquake.  The flexibility inherent in the bale and the plastic along with the slack in the wire method would allow movement and not collapse.

There was one other thing that got me excited about this idea.  That was one of the common methods of building in the places where I could see this being used was the use of plaster.  Plastering the inside walls would separate any bad stuff in a bottle brick from the inhabitants.  Plaster on the outside insure a longer life for the bottle bricks, even though they supposedly have a three to five hundred year life span in a land fill.

The mold is like I described earlier with the addition of two quarter inch in diameter metal rods running parallel with the floor or bottom of the mold and on a center line of the mold.  The rods are to create a pathway for additional tie wires after the bale is removed from the mold.

Here is the way I see it working.  The first bottle is flattened and then placed horizontally in the mold.  First it is pierced with the rods in the middle and then it is slid down the rods to the end of the mold.  The same thing happens with the next bottle except that the bottom of the new bottle is at the open end of the first bottle.  Bottles are flattened and installd repeating this pattern.  The bottoms of the bottles are alternated as they are installed.  When the mold is full of bottles then the manual press is put in place.  The lever ratchets the press plate towards the closed end of the mold.  If the brick isn’t firm the pressure plate can be backed off and more bottles installed.  The compression is repeated until the brick is the right length and density.  At this point the brick is secured with wire similar to the way a bale of straw is secured.  The brick is removed from the mold and additional wire is placed in the two tunnels made by the steel rods.  Ideally there will be short tie wires placed during the building of the brick.  These wires will be placed so they will secure the horizontal wires placed in the tunnels.  Those ties wires will be used to secure the bricks to the stalilizing wires that run on top of each course.

Let’s build a small one room building using the bottle bricks.  We would start with laying out the perimeter, round is better, and two doorways.  The two doorways is important for one reason.  That reason is the purpose of vertical movement by the residents.  As times get better and they want to add a room they already have the doorway for it.

At the corners and edge of the doorways two re-bar pieces are driven into the ground.  This is where the courses stop and start.  Those ties at the ends of the bottle brick are tied to the re-bar uprights.  A short piece of re-bar is driven in at the end of the bottle brick.  The end of the re-bar stake is at the same height as the bottle brick.  The next bottle brick is placed in the same way.  It’s attached to the previous short stake and the new stake driven in at its end the same way.  This is repeated until the next doorway or corner is reached.  Two pieces of heavier gauge wire is placed between the two ends or doorways.  Barbwire would work good for this.  So would nine gauge wire for instance.  The heavy gauge wire is attached to the re-bar posts at each end.  It is then tied to each brick with the short ties that come out of the top of the bottle bricks, the ones that are attached insdie the bottle brick to the wires that go through the middle of the bottle brick.  Once that course is secured then the next course is placed starting with a half bottle brick of course.  These bricks are tied to the wire secured to the course below.

Every course is secured the same way.  It’s secured to the barbwire or heavier gauged wire below with the end tie wires.  It is then attached to the next heavey gauge or barbwire placed on top with the middle ties.

Keep in mind this is work in progress.  There will be changes and we might even find the finished product resembles little of what I’m proposing here.  That’s progress.  It’s also the reason I’ve went public so quickly with it.  I want this to be an open source product.  I want he participants to make it their own.

I have some thoughts that I’d like to share about my bottle brick concept.  One of them is most societies would find this system similar to their traditional methods with the exception of the tie wires and the blocks being made of plastic.

Another thing is the blocks will be light enough that women and children can handle them easily.  If the society allows it then there can be more participants in the building process.  It also means widows and single mothers can build their own housing if their society allows that.

This system offers more resistance to earthquakes than conventional mortar and block construction.  If the roof is made like an igloo then this design would also offer more protection from high winds because it would be more aerodynamic.

This is a beginning.  I can see recycling plants making bottle bricks designed for building retaining walls.  I can see subsidizing bottle bricks by government and industry because it not only recycles plastic waste, it offers opportunity and housing.  I can see bottle bricks being built that would offer armor protection for our troops.  Bullet proof glass is laminated plastic and glass.  A bottle brick is made by laminating you might say plastic and plastic.  Engineers are amazing.  One of them might be able to figure out how to use the bottle brick to stop bullets.

If you wish to to discuss this with me I’m in the book Wylie, Texas.  My email address is my first name at this web address.

I am very interested in critiques.   Consider this open source, a work in progress, dream the dream…

What would be the best thing ever though would be for the bottle brick to become recyclable itself.  When a bottle brick building is demolished the bottle bricks are recycled and used again.

Another aspect that excites me is the idea of it creating commerce.  There could be employment creating the bottle bricks.  The construction could also provide employment.  Procuring the materials, bottles, would also be employment and commerce.  Rooms could be bought and sold, rents could be arranged.  Wealth would be generated at all levels of involvement.

There is one and only one difference between communities as I see it.  Commerce, the business of business is what took Japan from desolation to wealth.  The same thing has happend to China.  Japan is a democracy and  China is communist.  But they both escaped poverty as a nation through commerce.  Suggesting poor countries can’t do the same is ignoring the most obvious thing of all.  We’re people first.