NEWBURY — Students at Newbury Elementary School and Lynn’s Thurgood Marshall Middle School are collecting single-use and otherwise nonrecyclable plastics to create “ecobricks” as part of an educational project.
The project, designed by Nathan Gray, gives students a chance to not only learn about sustainability, but how to put it into action. Gray is a Newbury-based contractor who runs Home Factory, a nonprofit seeking to change the housing market with environmentally efficient and affordable housing made from reclaimed materials.
“An ecobrick,” Gray said, “is a plastic water bottle stuffed with other plastics which can easily be cut by scissors and compacted into the water bottle.”
Over the next several months, students will collect and assemble 7,000 ecobricks in their own homes and, beginning in April, they will use these ecobricks to build a shed on Cottage Road in Newbury.
Materials typically stuffed into the bottle include food wrappers, candy wrappers, grocery bags, straws, packaging attached to common household items and other single-use plastics.
“It’s pretty much all plastics, but ideally the ones that can’t be recycled through your city or town,” Gray said. “That way, they are not ending up in places like the landfills or oceans.”
The shed, which will stand on Gray’s property, will be used as an educational model to show students and others how to change their thinking about the resources around them. The shed, as well as other similar models Gray plans to build, will be available for tours “to show others what can be done with ecobrick.”
“The purpose of the build is to use all those plastics which would’ve ended up in landfills or our ocean,” he said.
Gray said there are several techniques to build structures using ecobricks. One example is stacking the ecobricks inside concrete, but Gray plans to practice a few different methods with the students.
“It’s going to represent a small ecohome,” he said. “There will be electricity running through and heating running through it. Depending on how much money comes in, we will play with the different techniques for sewage and compost toilets.”
Gray, who grew up in Lynn and now lives in Newbury, wanted to bring two schools, “city and suburb,” together through this project.
While he plans to have students start by making ecobricks in their own homes, Gray hopes to receive help from the community as well.
On Oct. 26, the River Wardens, a local volunteer corps through the Ipswich River Watershed Association, will meet at Ipswich River Park for a fall cleanup of the river and surrounding trails. The plastic pulled from the river and surrounding area, which would have been tossed into a landfill, will be used to fill ecobricks. Anyone interested in volunteering is welcome to join.
“The idea is to eventually bring this to other towns and other cities,” Gray said. “Ecobrick obviously isn’t in the construction building codes.”
In doing these projects, he hopes it will “show other building inspectors and town planners what can be done with ecobricks and how we can make it structurally sound.”
Beyond sheds, he sees ecobricks as the future for walls, sidewalks and other structures.
“The research that I’ve done shows that the plastic bottles will actually stay intact for a hundred years, 200 years,” Gray said. “And if you decide to remove the building or the flatscapes — the flatwork it’s built into — then, you can actually reuse the bottles again.”
Looking to the future, Gray, a veteran who served in Iraq, said, “I’d love to build homes for the homeless or some homes for veterans.”
Staff reporter Heather Alterisio may be reached at 978-961-3149 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.