Eco-bricks as the building block of waste management in Biñan

by Jiana Valerie R. Buenafe

A plaque inside the Biñan City Command, Control, and Communication Center. Photo
courtesy of City of Biñan via Facebook

Bustling urban centers. Endless rush hour traffic. Dynamic environment. These are words that aptly describe the city of Biñan.

According to the World Population Review, Biñan City’s 2023 population is now estimated at 419,526. This statistic, along with the city’s rapid urbanization, has led to an exponential rise in waste generation. Consequently, Biñan faces the daunting task of finding effective strategies to address this issue while minimizing environmental and health risks associated with improper waste disposal.

The environmental and health impacts of improper waste disposal cannot be understated. Improperly disposed waste contaminates water sources, contributes to air pollution, and poses a significant threat to the well-being of both human and animal populations. Urgent action is needed to mitigate these risks and create a sustainable waste management system.

Eco-bricks offer a promising alternative to traditional waste management practices and an effective solution to the environmental challenges faced by fast-growing cities.

The traditional eco-bricks are plastic bottles stuffed tightly with non-recyclable waste materials such as wrappers, plastic bags, and other single-use plastics. The waste materials are cut into small pieces and then stuffed inside the plastic bottles using a wooden stick or any similar material. Though lightweight compared to other bricks, eco bricks are durable and serve as a sustainable building material.

Different types of eco-bricks exist, including single-use and multi-use variants. Single-use eco-bricks are typically used in smaller-scale projects, while multi-use eco-bricks, composed of higher-density materials, are suitable for more substantial construction endeavors. This versatility makes eco-bricks a viable option for various infrastructure and building applications.

All over the world, eco-bricks were used in constructing sustainable architecture and inclusions in the community. For example, in Bocas del Toro, Panama, the Plastic Bottle Village project consists of houses and structures constructed entirely from eco-bricks made from plastic bottles.

In Taiwan, the EcoARK pavilion, designed by architect Arthur Huang, utilized 1.5 million recycled plastic bottles to create a visually striking and functional building.

In the Philippines, eco-brick projects are done in schools, especially during September which is Science Month. But Biñan City explored initiatives that go beyond making eco-bricks in the traditional way.

When the Taal Volcano erupted in January 2020, Mayor Walfredo “Arman” Dimaguila Jr. conceived the idea of using the collected dry ashes as raw materials to produce bricks or eco-hollow blocks. In addition to being environmentally friendly, the “Taal bricks” contributed to the recovery of Batangas municipalities like Agoncillo, Lemery, and Caraca.

According to the Public Information Agency, Roman Carencia, the Biñan City information officer, stated that the local chief executive had proposed the idea of transforming the ashes into bricks, citing the significant amount of ashes collected after the ashfall.

Fast forward to March 27 of this year, the new Command, Control, and Communication Center constructed using the same eco-hollow blocks was inaugurated.

On the first floor of the building, you will find the fire and rescue assets of the city such as fire trucks, fire tankers, fire ladders, rescue vehicles, and other emergency and disaster rescue equipment. Their offices and sleeping quarters for fire volunteers and rescuers are also located there. Additionally, you can witness their modern firefighting equipment and observe their information center, where valuable information is available.

The second floor houses the new command center, which features video footage from 160 CCTV cameras strategically placed across different locations in Biñan. It also includes a call center and conference room. Additionally, you will find the office of the Biñan City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (BCDRRMO) on this level.

The eco-hollow blocks were sourced from Biñan’s Eco Park – Material Recovery Facility. Even before the Taal eruption, the facility has been making sustainable bricks out of plastic waste obtained from the community. Furthermore, the cost of these eco-hollow blocks is significantly lower compared to regular hollow blocks available in hardware stores.

“At ‘yung mga kinikita po ng bricks natin ay itinutulong naman din po natin sa mga nangangailangan pa rin po sa may bahaging Tagaytay (And the earnings we generate from these bricks are also being shared with those in need in the Tagaytay area),” said Ms. Maria Bonacua, the head of BCDRRMO, in an interview with 24/7 Balita at Talakayan.

As mentioned earlier, public schools in Biñan are also actively involved in the production of traditional eco-bricks (the type where shredded plastics are stuffed inside a plastic bottle). Usually, activities are headed by the Youth for Environment in Schools Organization (YES-O).

The potential benefits of eco-bricks and eco-hollow blocks extend beyond waste management. By utilizing non-recyclable plastics, eco-bricks help reduce plastic pollution and promote recycling.

They also foster community engagement and awareness regarding waste management practices, inspiring individuals to become active participants in sustainable initiatives.

One remarkable aspect of Biñan’s eco-brick revolution is its transformation into a community-driven initiative. Engaging citizens in the production and use of eco-bricks has fostered a sense of ownership and empowerment among community members.

Jeleene and Xyra, Biñan residents who have participated in eco-brick production, shared their motivations for doing so.

“Isa siyang magandang paraan para mahikayat ang bawat isa na gawing kapaki-pakinabang ang basura sa kanilang bahay imbes na mapapunta pa ito sa kapaligiran. Lalo na’t dito sa Pilipinas nasa sachet ang halos pang-araw araw na produkto. Malayo naman din na matigil ang produksyon ng plastik. (It is a great way to encourage everyone to make their household waste useful instead of it ending up in the environment. Especially here in the Philippines, where most everyday products come in single-use sachets. Anyway, it is far-fetched to expect a halt in plastic production.),” said Xyra.

Jeleene agreed with this sentiment as she also expressed her confidence in the ability of eco-bricks to turn waste into something beneficial. “Not only will it lessen the consumed waste from being scattered in our surroundings, but it will also help the community to build low-cost houses and the environment to keep from the toxins of plastics.,” she said.

Furthermore, Jeleene added that “at some point, it will also help the people in the community to build collaboration as they come to know the good purpose of eco-bricks in the environment, and they also will become mindful of how much waste they consume.”

The incorporation of eco-bricks into Biñan’s waste management infrastructure has yielded positive results. By diverting non-recyclable plastics from landfills, the city has significantly reduced the amount of waste destined for disposal sites. Furthermore, the use of eco-bricks helps minimize carbon emissions associated with traditional building materials, promoting a more sustainable and low-carbon cityscape.

The success of Biñan’s eco-brick revolution serves as an inspiring example for other fast-growing cities facing similar waste management challenges. By prioritizing sustainable practices and engaging their communities, these cities can reduce waste, minimize environmental impacts, and foster a sense of environmental responsibility among their residents.

Biñan City’s journey towards sustainable waste management through eco-bricks demonstrates that small changes can lead to significant positive impacts, making a difference for both the environment and the well-being of its people.