As the world struggles to reduce plastic consumption, a Cambodian social entrepreneur is working hard to upgrade his methods of turning plastic waste into ecological construction material.

Eco-Bricks is the brainchild of Sok Thy, who was inspired to start the business after realising the environmental damage that plastics cause.

He acted on his inspiration by travelling to several Asian countries to learn about the technology involved in turning plastic into an environmentally-friendly construction material that is almost indistinguishable from clay bricks.

Founded in 2019, the social enterprise collects plastic waste from schools and communities to make plastic bricks, clean up the environment, create more jobs in the community and provide an opportunity for low-income families to have shelter.

“Our enterprise cooperates with directors of some secondary and high schools nearby to teach students how to properly divide rubbish. Also, we work closely with communities to educate local people in waste separation, Thy says.

The bricks are partly made from plastic materials. The 39-year-old Thy says the product is a great way to encourage people not to dispose of their plastic waste in public.

Eco-Bricks are made from discarded plastics which are collected and compressed. Photo supplied

Global NGO Plastic Oceans says people produce around 350 million tonnes of plastic annually. About half of it is single-use.

As he pondered the negative impact of plastic on nature, Thy realised he could do something to help the planet.

Its takes at least one hundred years for plastic bags to decompose and Thy decided they could be put to use instead of being left to slowly rot. Training courses in ecological brick production in Thailand, India and Malaysia gave him the expertise to bring the practice to Cambodia.

In addition to the knowledge he gained from the training courses, he took special online ones from Chinese and Filipino specialists on how to make plastic bricks.

“Travelling and e-learning enabled me to gather the courage to begin my own production in Kandal province,” Thy says.

Thy’s plastic bricks are longer and larger than typical clay bricks. They have special small holes which constitute an insulation system to trap heat. The bricks are 15cm by 30cm by 10cm.

It is not clear how much of plastic is converted to produce each brick, but Thy offers a brick to anyone in the community for every 2.5kg of plastic waste they collect.

“Plastic materials like bags, cutlery, straws and containers are collected and delivered to the enterprise for cleaning and drying. Then it is packed tightly and can be used as a building block,” he says.

The holes in the interlocking bricks make building fences, garden enclosures and gateways effortless.

Thy’s bricks also promote affordable homes. He claims that the bricks make building faster and people can do it themselves.

The holes in Eco-Bricks act as insulators and trap heat. Photo supplied

Thy also claims that his Eco-Bricks are five to six times stronger than clay bricks which require cement, sand and water during construction.

“Eco-Bricks can be deconstructed and moved without cement. Building gateways and interior decorations do not require cement, which makes it simple and easy to re-arrange.

“However, if you use them to build a house, you need a cement mix. Builders should use a blend of cement and water to cover an Eco-Bricks wall for it to last long, he says.

Thy says people hoping to build a home with Eco-Bricks should consult a construction company.

If workers do not know how to build a house with the plastic bricks, Thy says he can teach them.

His enterprise has also created several jobs for locals. In addition to their salary, workers are provided with a room to stay, three free meals per day and a safe working environment.

Eco-Bricks, he says, are of high quality and durable. He brought Eco-Bricks and his brick-making machine to be tested at the laboratory of the Institute of Technology of Cambodia.

The laboratory tested the brick’s quality and measured its strength.

Last year, Thy’s bricks were presented at the Science and Technology Now innovation workshop at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia.

Eco-Bricks won the recent SmartSpark Cohort 5 contest and has been shortlisted for the National Entrepreneurship Awards 2020.

Despite its success, Eco-Bricks’ output is limited.

Thy says: “At the moment, the enterprise is not able to produce many Eco-Bricks. The manufacturing process requires us to have four automatic machines. Sadly, we have only two.

“Some processes need to be managed manually as well. The lack of brick-making machines has decreased our quantity, increased our working days and called for more workers. We have the skill, but lack money,” he says.

Eco-Bricks cost about $8.50 per one square metre, which calculates to about 33 bricks.

“Eco-Bricks are more expensive than clay bricks. However, if we calculate the total cost, Eco-Bricks save money. Eco-Bricks are longer and bigger than typical bricks.

“Using Eco-Bricks, we do not need cement. If you spend $10,000 to build a house from simple bricks, that house may cost only $3,000 with Eco-Bricks,” Thy says.

Thy says he aims to produce environmentally friendly products at a low price which are harmless to the environment and enable lower-income families to build affordable shelters.

He is currently raising funds to purchase the machines he needs to assemble high-quality bricks. With the machines, he can lower his production cost as well.

Thy is also seeking investors to help him develop sustainable construction materials and get his message out to encourage people to recycle.

“Most importantly, this enterprise is taking trash which has a negative impact on the environment and society and turning it into something that benefits local communities,” he says.

For more information, visit the Eco-Bricks Facebook page or call 093 214 466 or 085 224 466.