Plastic use is so much a part of our daily lives that we often overlook how much plastic each of us actually uses and how much we contribute to this ever-growing problem. To demonstrate this point to my own family of four, I decided to separate all of the single-use plastic that we use in a single month and spread it across our backyard lawn.
This resulted in an enormous 8 x 9 square foot (2.4 x 2.7 square meter) area of shopping bags, shipping materials, dry cleaning covers, grocery bags, and snack wrappers for just about everything. My parents, brother and I were all shocked to see how much we had actually consumed in a single month.
The worst part about this is that every single piece of plastic ever made still exists. Plastic never truly biodegrades, meaning plastic waste has and will continue to pile up. In oceans, plastics line the seafloor, cover reefs, and are consumed by animals, and these plastics destroy the natural marine ecosystems. Approximately 400 million tons of plastic waste are produced each year, and this number will continue to grow as the world population increases.
What’s the solution? First and foremost, consumers should be more ecologically conscious by limiting the use of plastics, because the way we shop shapes the way that manufacturers produce products. Additionally, plastic producers should be accountable for their profits from plastic products, with restrictions for single-use production and the responsibility to foot the bill for the recycling.
That said, it seems impractical to argue that we could completely eliminate single-use plastic. While states like California have made great strides in restricting certain products, such as single-use plastic straws, that’s a far cry from stopping continued plastic production and consumption.
We must do a better job of transforming our single-use plastic into something that we can actually use: plastic bricks.
Forget trying to fashion something with clay or stone. All you need to make your own plastic “ecobrick” is a plastic bottle, sharp scissors, and a dowel or packing stick. You’ll cut the plastic into tiny pieces that you then stuff into the bottle until it’s as dense as it can possibly be. Almost like magic, the 9 x 8 square feet of trash fits into just 10 17-ounce plastic water bottles, and those bottles can be used for building and construction.
Not only does the process of ecobricking raise awareness of irresponsible plastic consumption, it also consolidates and secures plastic out of the biosphere. By being packed into a bottle, the surface area of the plastic is greatly reduced and the negative impact on the planet is minimized. The ecobricks are stacked horizontally, with concrete or mortar in between, and when they’re not used for structural purposes, they can also be used for insulation.
Ecobricks are already in use across the globe, particularly in third-world countries where traditional building materials are less readily available. Latin America leads the way in using ecobricks to build housing units, schools, park benches, and other much-needed structures.
Is ecobricking the ultimate solution to the plastic crisis? I wish.
But, it’s a pivotal step that we can take in lessening the amount of plastic that goes to landfills, preventing microplastics from ending up in our ecosystems, supporting eco-friendly building practices, and making all of us more mindful of our waste.
So, what will I be doing later? Ecobricking! And I hope you will be too.
To learn more about ecobricking and environmentally conscious activism, please visit my site at ecoshots.org. I created EcoShots to combine my love of nature and photography.
EcoShots is dedicated to the power of photography to promote awareness, advocacy, and education about the preservation of our natural ecosystems and the living species that depend on them, from the smallest insects to the largest mammals.
These shots are purposeful because I am not only framing aspects of landscapes and wildlife that I love, but also emphasizing how important it is for us to play an active role in their preservation.