16. Ecobricks with Faisal Abdur Rani



When ocean plastics first came up on my personal radar – I heard the following number over and over again: 3 million tons plastic waste entering the ocean each year. At that rate we will have more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.

And then I started taking notice of the pictures. Corals entangled with plastic bags. Beautiful beaches covered in PET bottles.  And then next thing I found out was that plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, ultimately feeding toxins into our own food chain.

I can still remember when and where I was when I first saw the picture of the turtle with a plastic straw being remove from its nose. I don’t consider myself highly sensitive but that seemed so wrong.

I am the type of person who sees a problem and reaches for the nearest search engine. I had a quick trawl for solutions.

And I found plenty of them. Of course, no single solution works without some drawback or limitation- each had a fatal flaw that prevents it from being the silver bullet that will solve the plastic crisis. The solution that so many people are searching for.

Something, that I learnt, was that most experts seem to agree on, is the 3r framework – reduce, recycle, reuse

A solution can be assessed by whether or not it fits the framework.

Things like calculating your personal plastic footprint get the thumbs up because it supports reducing part of the 3r’s

Solutions like biodegradable-plastics fit none of the 3r’s and might be regarded with skepsis

Along the way, I heard about this solution called – Eco bricks. The name sounded familiar – some kind of environmentally tolerable building block, I supposed

I was curious and wanted to find out more

According to the internet, an Eco brick is a plastic bottle packed tightly, and the emphasis here is tightly, with plastic waste.

The Eco brick can be used as a component in building structures such as walls or even furniture.

I found an excellent resource at ecobricks.org which has a fun and interactive app for getting involved in the international Eco brick movement

I was lucky enough to find someone who could help me with a few of the questions I had about Eco bricks

Faisal Abdur Rani is the Program Director of Impactlution Malaysia which manages the activities of Eco bricks in Malaysia

He organizes beach clean-ups, river clean-ups and urban clean-ups and is a zero-waste practitioner

He is a trained chemical engineer from Montana state university and worked previously in the oil and gas industry

Eco bricks is a technology and Faisal has a deep understanding of how to apply it – and not just in an engineering sense but also how Eco bricks can be used as an educational tool

Faisal, you have a lot of experience with Eco bricks: what is an Eco brick?

Faisal Abdur Rani

An Eco brick is a plastic bottle packed with single use plastic. Non-recyclables are packed into the bottle.

Ok I want to make an Eco brick. I have a plastic water bottle. I have washed and dried some plastic packaging – what next?

Faisal Abdur Rani

You need a stick, a plastic bottle and some plastic packaging. This is packed into the bottle as tightly as possible.

Ok. I have the bottle and a stick, and I have cut up the plastic into smaller bits. I am pushing the strips of plastic into the bottle. What should I look out for and what am I aiming for in the final product?

Faisal Abdur Rani

Understand the bottle first, each has its own design and structure. Pack the bottle slowly and cap it.

Pristine Ocean

I wondered how Eco bricks fit into the reduce, recycle reuse framework. The answer surprised me. But more of that later.

I asked Faisal, what Eco bricks have to do with recycling?

Faisal Abdur Rani

Eco bricks are this tool to close the gap for things that cannot be recycled

Pristine Ocean

So, Eco bricks complement recycling by dealing with waste that can’t be recycled. plastic takeaway containers are a typical single-use plastic. produced from oil extracted from the earth, created in a factory a long way away, stored somewhere for months, used for 10 mins

I guess the Eco brick, if they are used as building components, they are a type of reuse. I asked Faisal what you can make with them

Faisal Abdur Rani

Park benches and structures. In rural communities build walls.

Pristine Ocean

I came to understand how Eco bricks supports reuse by giving value to non-recyclable plastic.

I also understood that Eco bricks complement recycling

But I was wondering about the reduce part of the 3’rs. How do Eco bricks help you reduce?

Faisal’s answer was a bit of an ah-ha moment for me

Faisal Abdur Rani

After making one, you realize the amount of single use plastic. You start looking and evaluation h

I guess the ah-ha was that Eco bricks are not about dealing with other people’s trash-it is about coming to terms with trash produced from my own lifestyle

Yes, I live in the 21st century and plastic is unavoidable but to ignore the problem is not the answer

Faisal Abdur Rani

When you see how much you are producing. It becomes a habit.

Pristine Ocean

While I was talking to Faisal, he told me about different awareness programs he was supporting

He has worked together with Clean Seas Malaysia to help schoolteachers integrate the topic of marine plastic litter into the syllabus.

One program – the family agreement – really spiked my attention

When I heard it – it was so foreign to me, I didn’t know what to think.

What’s the family agreement about?

Faisal Abdur Rani

It is agreement between parents and teenagers about how they consume.

Pristine Ocean

Ok, sounds good. what are the ground rules?

Faisal Abdur Rani

The kids can have anything they want including junk food.

Pristine Ocean

If I was a teenager, you would now have my attention. but there is a catch, right?

Faisal Abdur Rani

Anything they consume, they have to bring it home, wash it and dry it.

Pristine Ocean

You actually ran this a pilot in a real family. What happened? How did the kids react?

Faisal Abdur Rani

In the first month, they went crazy. In the second month, it become a hassall. In the third month, there was a behaviour change.

Pristine Ocean

Faisal uses the family agreement in presentations wherever he goes to create a basis for discussion. ultimately, the goal is for everyone to reflect on their personal use of single-use plastic. Eco bricks may have a number of things going for them, but they can in no way compete with simply reducing single-use plastic in the first place

I think I now had a better grasp of Eco bricks with their advantages and disadvantages. the breakthrough for me was when Faisal said “make your first Eco brick, your last”

It is not really about solving the problem of the waste that is already out there but about reflecting on my own use of single-use plastic.

The other thing that occurred to me is that the teenagers in family agreement have certainly had a profound learning experience.

I can imagine that they might see their chemistry classes in a whole new light, maybe dreaming up the innovations that will pull us out of this plastic catastrophe that we have created.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for listening. Please do subscribe to the Pristine Ocean Podcast, the podcast that connects you to the many people around the world fighting the scourge of marine plastic litter.

This is the Pristine Ocean Podcast. I’m your host, Peter Hall. The podcast connects you to people around the world fighting the scourge of marine plastic litter



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