Here in Indonesia, we’ve been using the widespread problem of plastic pollution to raise ecological consciousness. I arrived in Indonesia about four years ago, with a virtually unknown technique of packing plastic into a bottle to make reusable building blocks. Using my insights from four years in the remote Northern Philippines — living with the Igorot people and working with the Maia Earth village team — I began to apply our simple ‘ecobricking’ technique to deal with my personal plastic in my home in Bali.
Sure and steady, the technique spread through word of mouth and the online, open resources that we have put up at ecobricks.org. Schools, community groups, corporations and then entire cities adopted ecobricking as their personal plastic solution. I estimate that there are over a two million active ecobrickers in the country now, with tens of millions now aware of the technique through widespread media coverage.
Of course, it’s not about the technique, it’s not about what we build, it’s not even about keeping all that plastic from hitting the streams, fields, rivers and oceans (although this is all important!). What it is really about is using the meditative, consciousness raising process of methodically plodding through each piece of one’s consumption and taking responsibility for it. Although there is way too much plastic in the biosphere already, there is a tsunami more on its way unless we shift and transition. This only happens through the raising of consciousness, individually and collectively.
My personal plastic transition continues to bring insights! I am inspired by Bill Mollison’s famous dictum that “the problem is always the solution”. As I observe the social and personal consequence of ecobricking, I am more and more inspired to see the logic of this wisdom passed to plastic: plastic is the solution to plastic.
In January 2018, we began to get some inquiries about ecobricking from the UK. As 2018 progressed, this trickle turned into a torrent. It turns out that the documentary Blue Planet Two (and in particular its final episode on plastic pollution) had a profound impact on the UK public. In June 2018 investigative reports began to break in the UK media about recycled plastic not being responsibly dealt with by UK contractors (it was being sent to dubious disposal sites in SEA!).
In October, the industry fully exposed, UK municipalities that had been recycling for decades had to shut down their programs, and folks had to put their plastic into the same bin as everything else. The existential shock waves were profound. Decades of illusion about plastic were shattered. With faith lost in the system, recycling programs and industry, they turned to… well… ecobricks. The deluge of interest in the techniques and insights that we have mined in South East Asia for the last five years was overwhelming. Our servers crashed in October as posts about ecobricks went viral. Our Facebook pages grew by tens of thousands of members a day. Our videos received tens of millions of views. My photo and story was in the Daily Mail — the same tabloid that covers celebrity gossip! People throughout the UK who had long entrusted government and industry, began to take matters back into their own hands. Literally!
Fortunately, for the last five years we have been hard at work laying the foundations of an international trainer network. We’ve been leading Ecobrick Training of Trainers throughout the Philippines and Indonesia, and using teleconference, we trained two UK trainers when the first trickle of interest began in 2018. Those first trainers were instrumental in seeding and ensuring the integrity of core ecobrick principles (Igorot and Earth village ethics) as the UK movement grew. We’ve been able to train a dozen more, and those trainers are now leading a massive social media community of ecobrickers in the UK as well as hands-on workshops around Scotland and England. A glance at their Ecobricks UK social media page, and the intense discussions around plastic, recycling, and transition are a profound testament to the consciousness-raising and most of all the personal empowerment that ecobricks facilitate. Having taken back their power, UK folks are becoming passionate and potent agents of transition in their country. It’s really amazing to watch it all unfold.
As we move into 2019, we’re hard at work at laying the intellectual and technological infrastructure to support the continued exponential spread of ecobricks. I am well aware that the UK is just the beginning, and we need to get ready for the next massive wave. We have a beta web app in development to serve ecobrickers locally and globally to connect, track and share their ecobricking. From here we are hard at work building a manual block chain cryptocurrency that puts a value on ‘the removal of plastic from the biosphere’. After all, plastic is just a symptom of the post-industrial capitalist, petroleum fuelled system. If Bill Mollison is right and the problem really is the solution, well… I suspect that turning plastic on the system itself, as capital, can propel us even deeper in our planetary regenerative transition.