Eco-Bricks turning tonnes of plastic into building mats

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Eco-Bricks company director Sok Thy shows off the certification he received for his products in August. FB

A lot of plastic waste is thrown away or burned, often producing toxic fumes that cause health problems.

A new plastic recycling operation is flipping the script, gathering between 5 and 10 tonnes per month of plastic waste from NGOs and private companies and producing Eco-bricks to serve the construction sector. The enterprise has so far claimed four Awards for Outstanding Entrepreneur of the Year.

Sok Thy, the founder of Eco-Bricks, located in Prek Ho Lech village, Prek Ho commune, Takhmao city, Kandal province, told The Post that before he opened his plastic recycling enterprise, he studied techniques used around the region, including in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, China and India. He also learned lessons online.

He felt like he had the knowledge to start small-scale operation in 2019, but a lack of capital and raw materials meant he did not get underway until 2020.

He described that in his first year of production, he did not have a plastic crushing machine, and so he had used scissors and knives to cut the plastic into pieces small enough for the process. He purchased an engine and machine parts to assemble his own automatic grinding machine, but it took two years of experimenting before it was running smoothly.

However, thanks to his hard work and his passion for the work he was doing, he was able to compete with other plastic recycling enterprises and win first place in the Best Enterprise Awards several times.

The first competition had 44 enterprises participating, all of whom were manufacturing recycled plastic bricks. The second competition was held at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia. Thy’s Eco-bricks claimed first in both competitions. The final competition became known as the Brick Business Award, and his team also dominated the competition.

“Due to the funding we received from winning these competitions, we were able to expand our operation. Today, my business has received an intellectual property certificate from the Ministry of Commerce and an environmental friendship certificate from the Minister of Environment. Our products were recently recognised by the Council of Ministers,” said Thy.

According to Thy, his business uses 5 to 10 tonnes of plastic waste per month, which is mixed with raw materials to produce bricks.

This amount of plastic waste helps the environment as well as society, as plastic waste is now collected at his site. As people learn about his brick production, they change their mindsets and no longer throw the plastic away or burn it, but provide it to Thy and his team. Every 2kg of plastic is enough to produce one brick.

“We help the environment by not polluting with it the waste, and are helping to keep the Kingdom tidy. We do not produce our bricks by using wood to burn them – our production chain follows the technique of just drying and watering. This also helps to prevent deforestation. Our bricks have a lifespan of over 50 years and are five to six times stronger than standard red clay bricks. We are helping clean up the environment, and we are helping the construction sector,” he added.

Thy said that he has now sold his business model to ten franchisees. He has taught them how to install the machinery they need so they can produce eco-bricks of the same quality as the ones the parent company turns out.

He said he produces five types of Eco-Brick, with the largest measuring 25cm by 12.5cm by 10cm. They have been used to build all kinds of different structures across the Kingdom.

He added that the quality of his bricks has been tested and verified by the Institute of Technology of Cambodia.

His business has the support of the authorities and he called on NGOs and the government to continue to support him and his franchisees. He wanted government institutions to participate in the use of eco-bricks and help educate people to reduce plastic waste.

For now, he said it was mostly foreigners who were sharing waste with him and using his bricks, with Cambodians being less involved.

“If the government supported us with capital, technical assistance or promoted what we do, it would help. It is difficult to sell our products widely, and we have only sold to the private sector. If the government was to insist on the use of environmentally-friendly bricks in more projects, we would sell many more products and get some great publicity,” he added.

Pheap Chanchealin, marketing assistant of River Ocean Cleanup, said that she was happy to hear about any kind of recycling, and was pleased that more people were turning waste into useful products.

She said it didn’t matter what kind of objects were being produced – as long as they could be used, that was great.

“Anything that recycles what we think of as worthless trash into something useful is a fantastic initiative as far as I am concerned,” she said.

According to the environment ministry, more than 10,000 tonnes of garbage is collected in Phnom Penh every day. Twenty per cent of the waste is plastic, of which just ten per cent is recycled.