After years of developing and experimenting with the concept, the Columbian architecture company Conceptos Plásticos (Plastic Concepts) has built a set of temporary shelters made out of recycled plastic bricks in Guapi, a city in the southwest of Colombia, to serve as homes to 42 families displaced due to armed conflict. The company, which employs less than 15 people, completed the project in 28 days while recycling more than 200 tons of plastic.

Concepts Plásticos managed to license its innovative and sustainable system of recycled plastic bricks, which are assembled like Lego pieces in a system that can create buildings up to two stories high in five days. With a final cost of 20 million Colombian pesos (about $6,800) per unit, the company had the help of four people to build a 40 square meter (131 square foot) house with two bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, a bathroom, and a kitchen in only five days.

recycled plastic bricks

Chivas Venture.

Although new plastic would be much easier to use in this system of construction, the company gets its raw material primarily from popular recyclers and factories that discard tons of plastic daily. The recycled plastic bricks go through a similar process that their clay counterparts go through: using an extrusion process, the plastic is melted and emptied into a final mold, creating a 6.6-pound (3 kilogram) brick. When assembled under pressure, the bricks insulate heat and have additives that hold back combustion. Moreover, the bricks are thermoacoustic and earthquake-resistant – designed to handle the country’s high levels of seismic activity.

In 2016, Conceptos Plásticos won $353,148 in the latest edition of The Chivas Venture to step up its production on a global scale, after beating 26 other international initiatives with social impact. “Our comprehensive project benefits lots of vulnerable sectors, it also creates a sustainable solution that endures over time. The building process involves entire families and communities while mitigating the environmental problem caused by pollution, which of course leads to climate change,” they state in their profile on Chivas Venture’s website.

“The project also has a social impact in impoverished areas most in need, where the unique designs of the building elements, based on recycled materials, allows anyone to build quickly, efficiently and cheaply.”

Most of the planet’s waste is made out of tough-to-decompose plastic. To get rid of plastic, companies often burn it, producing toxic gases like carbon monoxide, dioxins and furans, or throw it in the ocean – killing as many as one million sea creatures a year. As such, many environmentalist groups have embraced re-using or repurposing disposed plastic as a goal.

In 2016, U.S.-based startup ByFusion created construction blocks that can be used for building out of recycled plastic waste. Easy to transport from one location to another, ByFusion’s modular machine has the potential to provide a solution to the problem of plastic waste while creating a greener building material.

The title of this article was changed from “This Company Is Building Shelters Out Of Recycled Plastic Bricks In Colombia” to “Conceptos Plásticos Is Building Shelters Out Of Recycled Plastic Bricks” on 23 April, 2018. This article was also edited for clarity.