Turning Plastic Waste into Real Estate

Ahead of his “material improvement” presentation at the upcoming Green Cities conference, HASSELL principal Ken McBryde describes a novel service to the waste and housing crises. Plastic is a fantastic product. The first man-made plastic is thought to be “Parkesine”, patented by Alexander Parkes in the UK in 1856. Since then, Wikipedia informs me that more than 30 different types of plastic have been developed, including FAMILY PET, which was patented in 1941– paving the way for all those plastic bottles– and polyethylene, utilized in plastic bags, that made their first appearance in the 1950s.

In 2016 it’s difficult to picture the world without plastic. It’s used in an enormous and relatively ever-expanding series of products– everything from paper clips to spaceships. In 2013 alone, we produced more than 270 million tonnes of plastic. To put that in perspective, the great pyramid of Giza is estimated to weigh 6.5 million tonnes. Or, from another perspective, in 2012, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine approximated that the world’s adult population weighed in at 287 million tonnes.

But here are some actually troubling facts:

  • Every piece of plastic waste we have produced stays in the environment (apart from that which we have actually burnt).
  • In 2010 it was approximated eight million tonnes of plastic waste ended up in the oceans.
  • In this sea of plastic, one billion individuals do not have sufficient housing.

What should we be doing about these genuinely troubling obstacles?

Four years ago I met Nev Hyman, founder of Firewire Surfboards. Showing these difficulties, Nev Hyman had an easy idea: turn that waste into real estate. And, while we’re at it, we’ll create local micro-industries and tasks by providing containerised recycling plants. So we make real estate, create tasks and tidy up the oceans! That’s triple bottom line sustainability: social + economic + environmental. A win-win-win!

A lot of wave riders, (Nev and me no exception), have taken pleasure in lots of unforgettable trips to Bali and Indonesia for surfing. When checking out the country for kept-away surf breaks you can’t resist noticing two issues: the terrible living conditions in the towns and the stunning levels of plastic waste in the rivers, ocean and on the beaches.

A lot of surfers would concur that it’s time we discovered a way to give back, and for Nev and me, turning plastic waste into real estate in Bali and Indonesia appeared like a great start. Coming down to business, we put together a multi-disciplinary group consisting of polymer professionals, professional engineers from Arup plus industry and production specialists. Exclusive rights were protected to a trademarked recycling procedure that utilized five of the 7 plastic codes– it was terrific.

We concurred we needed to establish a modern and robust style, but it needed to retain elegance, such as models made of architectural timbers. Most importantly, we need one that would feel comfortable in the villages of Indonesia and Bali. We needed a style that government real estate department officials and global relief funding agencies would discover desirable.

Throughout a long and intense workshop on the Gold Coast, things were getting slowed down and stale, so I sneakily checked the coast reports. Nearly everybody in the group surfs, so it wasn’t hard to get agreement that we needed a well-earned break and ought to head down to Snapper Rocks for a midday browse. Strolling back up the beach, absolutely re-energised by our surf sess, ideas flowed– we cracked it.

By the last hour of the day we had developed a single extrusion that would work for the walls, louvers, roof and floors, similar to that of glue laminated timbers. A few additional angle profiles could likewise be combined in a series of ways to supply a portalised structural frame. Limiting the variety of extrusions substantially minimizes the advance tooling costs of die manufacture. The nearly standard structure parts we had actually created, could be easily upraised, flat-packed, delivered and put together by locals with limited trade abilities, using traditional and familiar hand tools.