11 January 2021
We are often asked when there are new developments in recycling, reuse, or alternative materials. On the other hand, it is not always easy to give an unambiguous answer because a fair assessment depends very much on the circumstances, which is also the case with the development of ‘Conceptos-plasticos.’ In a collaboration between local communities in Ivory Coast and Unicef, new school buildings are constructed entirely from building blocks made of plastic waste.
Another player in this ‘new business’ is the Norwegian startup Othalo, which has collaborated with the UN. They indicate there is enough plastic waste on earth (8.3 billion tonnes) to build a billion houses, which is a good illustration of how much plastic waste has already accumulated in the world.
Côte d’Ivoire is ranked low on the Prosperity Index (No 124) and matches most countries in Africa’s ‘developing country’ category. With associated problems and challenges, plastic waste is one of these major ‘piling up’ issues. The situation in these countries is very different from the wealthy West, where we always seem to find an economic basis for getting rid of our waste. Here, plastic disappears locally in one of the many uncontrolled landfill sites, but it usually leads its own life in the environment and pollutes the immediate environment. As a result, plastic waste is becoming a substantial modern-day plague all over the world.
WISH OR NECESSITY?
Plastic waste and lack of housing are a growing problem according to the United Nations Human Settlements Program; worldwide, 1.6 billion people live in poor houses while 100 million people have no roof over their heads at all. One of the reasons is that wood and other building materials are often scarce and expensive. Therefore, it is a logical idea to use the already existing plastic waste for practical applications such as building blocks. There are two sides to this: the immediate living environment is cleaned up, and jobs are created. The building blocks also provide the necessary (improved) housing.
Two problems solved, one would say, but is that so?
Everyone has the intrinsic need to live in an environment that feels as ‘natural’ as possible, without substances or materials that are harmful to health. These plastic building blocks seem to meet this need concerning litter but hide two risks.
- Although plastic waste is disposed of and reused, these blocks, unfortunately, do not stop the production of new plastic for packaging or other products. As a result, the polluting plastic system remains intact.
At PSF, we believe that there is now enough plastic globally and that strict measures need to be put in place to prevent further escalation of plastic accumulation and leakage. For example, provide reusable packaging and ensure that these materials are so valuable that they are not thrown away carelessly. Also, ensure a systemic approach in which ‘handing in’ or ‘refilling’ becomes the norm.
- A rudimentary form of recycling such as this type of building blocks has become indispensable. But daily exposure to plastic products or materials and the chemicals that go with them is a subject of grave concern to PSF and many scientists around the world. For example, these blocks have been treated with chemical flame retardants. Therefore, living or teaching in a building made entirely of plastic waste could pose serious health risks.
Particularly in countries with high temperatures, volatile chemicals from such a plastic mix can easily migrate into the indoor environment. Although a study has not shown any risks, Unicef would be wise to stipulate that all interior areas of buildings from this extensive school plan should have natural sealing linings. To further reduce the risks to schoolchildren, adequate ventilation is, of course, essential.
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