Plastic bags recycled as asphalt, decking material, and homes themselves!


With the Plastic-Free July challenge, we thought we’d take a look at how problematic single-use plastics are being repurposed by green builders around the world:

UntitledPlastic bags, containers and products we often have no use for – even after recycling– become an issue faced by the entire world. What us the rest of the world doing with them?In one unique case, homes made entirely from recycled plastics! Introduced by architect Oscar Mendez, Conceptos Plasticos (Plastic Concepts) is an initiative offering an innovative approach to waste reduction and dignified living. With the ambition to reduce not only the amount of discarded plastic but also the amount of homeless individuals in Latin America and the rest of the world, Oscar Mendez has set out to provide homes that have a significant environmental, social and economic impact.

The building blocks of for the homes in this project, the Bloqueplas, are made through and industrial process known as extrusion. The manufacture of these Bloqueplas, as explained by Mendez, is simple and can be broken down into a six steps:

  1. Take plastics from the streets
  2. Crush plastics
  3. Mix plastics
  4. Melt plastics
  5. Fit mix into mold
  6. Get Bloqueplas!

The most commonly used grade of plastic for Bloqueplas is plastic that has been categorized as having no market in the industry of plastic recycling. Bloqueplas, as a building material, is light, modular and durable and allows for fast, safe and inexpensive installation – “like a lego” as Mendez says. This initiative is “building the future for humanity and nature” and is allowing for impoverished communities to finally experience life in a house they can own.


While walking past the exit of a few of the grocery stores I frequent, I always noticed that there is a bin where you can recycle any plastic bags. And on a few occasions I’ve used that bin to recycle the bags that inevitably gets stuffed behind the sink. It got me curious. What are these plastic bags turned into?

My first guess (and kind of a given) is that they are converted into new bags to be used again. This is generally the case for a lot of that bags. But what was really cool was discovering all the ways in which these single-use bags can be converted into. I was able to find applications from plastic bricks to asphalt for roads. And those plastic bags I recycled? They were turned into decking material and other lumber products.

Composite decking material made from recycled plastic! Photo source

Turns out there are many grocery stores in Canada and the US that are sending them to companies such as Trex who will repurpose millions of plastic bags into weatherproof decking material. A single deck of around 500 square feet can contain plastic from around 140,000 bags (that’s a lot of groce


ries!). It is called composite wood. It is essentially a plastic beam sealed with a shell made from repurposed wood chips to give the appearance of wood beams. Neat! I would have never guessed that’s where those bags ended up.


Blog post by Paula Martinez and Seth Waugh, Coordinators for Common Energy’s Emerging Green Builders team