From discarded plastic bottles… to newly constructed shower stalls! A chain of eco-hostels in the Philippines has created a strong building material out of the discarded plastic found on their paradisiacal beaches.

Ziggie Gonzales is one of the co-founders of the Circle Hostel chain, three hostels located in Zambales, La Union, and Baler in the Philippines. The hostels are near surf spots and have a strong beach vibe, and Gonzales and the rest of the team are passionate about surfing in unpolluted waters.

Gonzales had seen the idea of stuffing plastic bottles with rubbish online, and decided to use it in his own environment. Using rubbish found on beaches and in the water, he started stuffing plastic bottles. He then used these solidly packed bottles to create eco-bricks as a way of upcycling plastics rather than letting them leak back into the environment. In 2016, Gonzales launched The Plastic Solution, an environmental initiative that hopes to encourage individuals and businesses to put this process into action.


Gonzales explained to the FRANCE 24 Observers team how it works:

“Rubbish on the beaches has been getting worse”

Rubbish on the beaches has been getting much worse in the last 30 years. In the rainy season there’s so much plastic on the beaches and in the water because all of the trash washes down the rivers and into the ocean. It’s affecting sealife, too. There are fewer turtles and more jellyfish.


Step One: Stuff your bottle

I came up with the idea for the Stuff It Challenge. I saw the concept online and decided to make it into a social media challenge that would generate some noise and have a positive effect on the environment.

Essentially, you ask people to take non-biodegradable trash and to stuff it into plastic bottles until it’s stuffed tight, until it’s too full to squeeze. You take a picture and tag it #StuffItChallenge then leave it at a drop-off site where we can collect it to use as a building material.

We’ve had such a good response on social media that the people who volunteered to be our drop-off points have received too many bottles to deal with.



Recycling is not very good in the Philippines. Another major reason we’re focusing on this is that with plastic there’s no such thing as recycling – it’s downcycling. You melt it down, and it is transformed into another type of plastic. And so on and so on until you get to a point where it can’t be used again. You have a lump of plastic that is non-compostable.

This video by The Plastic Solution shows how to stuff plastic bottles to make eco-bricks.

The Philippines is one of the worst polluters when it comes to plastics – and the tourism in the country doesn’t help either, as tourists often leave their rubbish behind them on the country’s beaches. A report by Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment published in November 2015 found that the Philippines was the world’s third biggest source of plastic pollution in the ocean.

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS:
The ‘holitrash’ that piles up in the Philippines during Holy Week


 
Step Two: Make your eco-brick

Lots of people don’t believe that it’s possible to make bottles into construction material so we’re using the hostels so that people can see that it works. There are two ways of building with the stuffed bottles: you can line the bottles up horizontally and cover them with cement, or you can build a basic support structure with posts, and use wire mesh and bamboo around the bottles to frame them and make bricks.


A wall made using eco-bricks in progress. Photo sent from our Observer.

This method is cheaper and safer than normal building materials. It’s pretty strong. Hollow blocks or bricks fall in an earthquake. Bottle bricks will shake but won’t fall — they’re actually safer. The bottles act as filler. [Editor’s note: A study carried out in Bangladesh in 2016 found that the bottle bricks were twice as strong as conventional concrete cylinders].


The hostels also promote an Island Clean Up event, which they try to do annually. After bank holiday weekends in the Philippines a lot of rubbish is left on beaches, and the event is your typical touristic island-hopping tour, complete with bonfires, surfing, and drinks – except guests are equipped with binbags. Gonzales has also started doing educational talks at local schools and with other businesses in the community.


In the hostels we’re trying to push the idea to our guests – we have bottles hanging in the bathrooms that people can fill with their rubbish, and we encourage people to collect their recyclable material and bring it to us.

We’re trying to educate people to be aware of their own trash consumption. Most people don’t realise how much trash output they have. And stuffing a bottle is actually not as time consuming as people think. A week’s worth of trash will take 30 minutes in an afternoon to stuff into a bottle.

It’s a good way to start, to talk to kids about it. The next generation is going to inherit. I want to make an impact and leave something good behind for future generations.

People gather outside the Circle Hostel with stuffed bottles ready to be used as eco-bricks.

Article written with
Catherine Bennett

Catherine Bennett , Anglophone Journalist