Hong Kong-based start-up EcoBricks has developed a process to upcycle plastic waste from old washing machines into construction material, reducing carbon emissions and helping tackle Hong Kong’s plastic waste problem by making use of plastic otherwise bound for landfills.
The Sino Group-backed company has developed a sustainable process to upcycle unrecyclable plastic waste and use it as an ingredient in paving bricks, according to founder Shervin Sharghy.
“It’s not just about producing a brick that’s more sustainable, or has lower carbon, it’s about helping to find a solution to the plastic waste,” Sharghy said.
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EcoBricks makes use of “problem plastics”, the composite, hybrid plastics that even waste recyclers have to put into landfills. “If you think about a television or a fridge or a washing machine, there’s a lot of plastic in there,” he says. “That was a very natural place for us to look.”
Likewise, paving bricks were a natural end product. “There’s a lot of demand for paving bricks in Hong Kong, especially given the scale of development that is constantly going on here,” Sharghy said.
The start-up’s solution found its first use at Sino Group’s Gold Coast Piazza in Tuen Mun earlier this month, where more than 15,000 EcoBricks were used to pave a promenade. The plastic that went into the bricks came from over 560 old washing machines, equivalent to 5,400kg of plastic waste.
“EcoBricks can replace up to 50 per cent of natural aggregates [in concrete bricks] with waste plastic, which avoids environmental damage and CO2 emissions from mining, processing, and transportation of virgin raw materials,” said Sharghy.
He added that the company developed a low-energy production process with no heating or melting of waste plastics, which eliminates the release of harmful emissions or pollutants. The bricks are tested to international standards, and they look, feel and perform like regular concrete bricks, Sharghy added.
The production of concrete accounts for around 8 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to London-based think tank Chatham House.
“So far we have recycled over 21 tonnes of plastic waste destined for landfill,” Sharghy said. “We are now focused on expanding our production capacity in order to increase our recycling volumes and also meet anticipated demand for our sustainable concrete products.”
EcoBricks aims to recycle 2,000 to 2,500 tonnes of plastic waste each year in a manufacturing facility that it hopes to open as early as the end of this year, once it finds a suitable location.
Hongkongers threw away 2,312 tonnes of plastic waste daily in 2020, accounting for 21 per cent of the municipal solid waste generated every day in the city, according to the latest statistics from the Environmental Protection Department.
“In Hong Kong, there’s a huge market for this solution,” said Andrew Young, associate director of innovation at Sino Group. “[Sustainability], we believe, is a big area – the game changer in property technology for the next decade – because everyone will be looking at net-zero carbon, ESG, and environmental impact. This technology really is crucial.”
Sino Group will continue to deploy EcoBricks at other properties in the city, such as Olympian City and The Fullerton Ocean Park Hotel Hong Kong.
“This project is a good example of the real estate industry’s commitment to the community and its support of innovation, in line with Hong Kong’s target to strive for carbon neutrality before 2050,” said Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing in a statement at the launch of the Gold Coast Piazza on June 7.
“Meanwhile, I call on the public to enhance waste reduction at source and clean recycling, and to support a circular economy and green employment, so as to reduce waste and carbon emissions together.”
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