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Building houses with recycled plastic

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The plastic that will replace brick is here: building houses with recycled waste

The world is looking for materials that will change the way we build, from plastics to replace steel to new types of concrete that could put ironworkers out of work. However, the solution of the US stat-up ByFusion also puts an end to another major problem suffered by all developed countries: the recycling of plastic.

Eighty percent of packaging ends up in landfills, incinerated or discarded, giving rise to a large proportion of the microplastics that threaten human health and the environment. Until other more sustainable materials prevail over plastic, it is necessary to reuse these tons of waste, but what second uses can be given to them? The American company converts bottles, bags or fishing nets into building blocks.

Harder and more resistant than concrete, but lighter and faster to produce, ByFusion’s blocks are presented as a solution to build with the billion tons of plastics that litter the planet. “Plastic is not the problem,” says the company, “the problem is that we didn’t have a good plan for the future.”

In their crusade against waste they have set out to recycle 100 million tons by 2030 and give them a second life as furniture, walls, sheds or soundproofing walls. ByBlocks, as they are called by their creators, are manufactured using 100% of the waste and accept those types of plastics that cannot be applied in other recycling processes.

What are the blocks like?

Since its founding in 2017, the company has managed to recycle 103 tons of plastic, it has a long way to go to reach its goal, although it has plenty of material to use.

The blocks or ByBlocks have standard dimensions of 40x20x20 cm and it is possible to cut them into different shapes. With these dimensions the block weighs 10 kg, although its components make it weigh up to 4.5 kg less than concrete and help it float on water thanks to the small air pockets between the crushed and melted plastic sections.

Unlike concrete, ByFusion claims that its blocks do not crack or crumble, “requiring no curing time or mixing of binding agents.” These qualities mean that production costs are reduced by 54% and it takes 65% less time to install than concrete, according to the company’s data.

In its videos, ByFusion shows the strength of these crushed and compressed plastic cubes and the techniques it has developed to build structures with them. Using cavities, the cubes are stacked on metal bars and then fixed with a top board that compresses and fixes the wall.

They can be coated with other materials or left in the open air to achieve walls splashed with the color of plastic products, like a work of abstract expressionism. However, plastics are sensitive to sunlight so if they are exposed they should be protected with transparent paint. Likewise, this material, like wood, needs protectors that will keep fire out in a fire.

How are they manufactured?

To manufacture compacted plastic bricks, ByFusion has designed and patented machines called Blockers that simplify the process as much as possible. There is no need to sort the plastics or clean them to turn them into something more useful than the mountains of waste that would take many decades to decompose.

It is not possible to recycle many of the single-use plastics, such as those made from a mixture of several resins, including polycarbonate and ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). Nor can PE-HD or HDPE (high-density polyethylene), found in dairy, juice and shampoo containers, be reused for new food packaging.

However, the technique developed by ByFusion accepts any type of plastic, only polystyrene foam is excluded. Bottles, containers, nets and all types of plastic waste are crushed and compressed with steam in a bucket. The process does not require any extra material, adhesives or glues and uses all the material to be recycled. In other words, 100 kg of discarded plastic is converted into exactly 100 kg of melted plastic in blocks.

You don’t even need specialized personnel to pull it off, Heidi Kujawa, founder of ByFusion explains in Fast Company, “You can literally eat your lunch, throw away the leftover plastic, make a block and then glue it on the wall,” although it’s hard to imagine a situation where someone would want to do that.

ByFusion’s business strategy is based on selling the machines to companies and governments around the world. It has two types of machines: the smaller one, similar to a shipping container, which can process up to 30 tons per month; and the larger one, which processes up to 90 tons of plastic per month.

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