“Asia’s first recycled plastic “Eco-Block” school has been built in a small, earthquake-devastated village in Lombok, Indonesia.
The pilot project’s success has spawned a new wave of Eco-Block schools slated to begin construction in coming months on the Indonesian island.
The earthquake-resistant five-classroom school was built in just five days in June by a local and international team in Taman Sari village, Mataram district, Lombok, an island rocked by a series of major earthquakes in 2018 that killed 563 people and displaced more than 417,000.
“The earthquakes were horrible for us here in Lombok, with damage caused to 1,138 schools, affecting 218,224 students,” says Lombok’s vice-governor, Sitti Rohmi Djalilah.
Today, almost half those students are studying in temporary shelters, despite efforts by the local government and international aid agencies to rebuild.
In the aftermath of the earthquakes, Classroom of Hope (CoH), an Australian charity that builds schools in Africa and Asia, raised funds to build pop-up schools with local partner Pelita Foundation.
Made from woodchip board and glue, the pop-ups helped more than 4,000 children get back to education.
“However, the pop-up schools were only ever meant to be a temporary measure. Ever since, there has been an urgent need to get thousands of children back into permanent schools,” says Duncan Ward, chief executive of Classroom of Hope and fundraiser for the Eco-Block School initiative.
Rebuilding has often been limited to traditional bricks and mortar, but the recycled plastic blocks offer a cheaper and more sustainable solution for the huge relief effort needed to rebuild schools across Lombok.
CoH enlisted the help of Finland-based Block Solutions, which was already building low-income housing in Africa with recycled plastic blocks.
The Eco-Blocks are made from various forms of recycled plastic, such as PET plastic bottles and PP plastic, which are washed and broken down into granules and mixed with wood fibres, before being processed in an injection-moulding machine.
“We can produce a block in only one minute,” says Markus Silfverberg, founder of Block Solutions.
Following months of preparation, CoH, Block Solutions, Pelita foundation and the Lombok regional government delivered 15 tonnes of the recycled Eco-Blocks to Taman Sari village in early June.
The Lombok pilot project was Block Solutions’ first use of its technology to build a school from recycled plastic.
“It’s like adult Lego,” Ward says, “Rather than building a bricks-and-mortar school over three to six months, we can build a five-classroom school in five days from recycled plastic blocks that will last for 100 years.”
Indonesia is the world’s second largest plastic polluter, and it is hoped the Eco-Block solution will help plastic waste management at a grass roots level.
“We want to have a major environmental impact and create a sustainable choice in construction. By using our technology, plastic that currently pollutes oceans, rivers or landfills can be transformed into long-lasting, safe and affordable homes or schools,” Silfverberg says.
The Eco-Blocks’ elasticity and lightweight, modular structure are designed for earthquake resistance.
“Even in the case of a major earthquake, injuries would not be fatal due to the superstructure design and weight of the recycled plastic blocks,” Silfverberg says.
Now plans are in motion to scale the project with the construction of an Eco-Block factory in Lombok and the incorporation of Block Solutions Indonesia.
This means waste plastic can be sourced and recycled, and blocks manufactured locally, with the added opportunity of shipping the blocks throughout the Indonesian archipelago.
“The launch of Block Solutions Indonesia is waiting for final investment decisions, but we are looking at production commencing early next year,” Silfverberg says.
As well as the educational and environmental benefits, there are significant economic advantages, according to Brad Wong, director of Mettalytics Consulting, who wrote the research paper Rebuilding Schools Destroyed in the 2018 Lombok Earthquakes Using Recycled Plastic Eco-Blocks: A Cost-Benefit Analysis….”