Brick by brick, two Indonesian women tackle the plastic invasion

Crashed by mountains of plastic waste flowing into Indonesian waters, two friends solved the problem by turning bags of chips and shampoo into bricks.

Ovy Sabrina and Novita Tan launched their Rebricks company after the Southeast Asian archipelago was named the second largest contributor to marine litter after China.

Indonesia has pledged to reduce plastic waste by 75% within 4 years, a Herculean task in this country of nearly 270 million people.

Friends started their project two years ago by collecting used coffee bags, instant noodles and plastic bags sprinkled on the megalopolis at food stalls in the Jakarta capital.

Thanks to a social media campaign that has gone viral, they are now receiving large amounts of this waste from across the country. Waste packages are delivered daily to the site of a small Rebricks factory in Jakarta.

“It shows that Indonesians are aware of recycling plastic waste, but they don’t know where to do it,” said Ovy Sabrina, a 34-year-old woman.

Rebricks workers break the bags into small pieces that are mixed with cement and sand and then shaped into bricks. These plain-looking bricks reveal a multitude of plastic particles if opened.

– Uncycled waste –

The two entrepreneurs explain that their technique uses waste that would not otherwise be recycled and end up in landfills or in the ocean. To date, they have processed more than 4 tons.

“Every day, about 88,000 plastic bags are prevented from polluting the environment,” notes Novita Tan, who has enabled Rebrick to produce more than 100,000 bricks to date.

Some Indonesian cities have banned disposable plastic bags, but recycling infrastructure is still scarce.

According to the American non-governmental organization Ocean Conservancy, about eight million tons of plastic or one truck per minute is thrown into the oceans every year. And more than 620,000 tons a year come from Indonesia.

Sad illustration of the problem: In 2018, a sperm whale was found dead on the Indonesian coast with six kilograms of plastic waste in its stomach, including 115 cups and 25 bags.

The two friends spent two years studying production techniques, drawing inspiration from a construction business run by the Ovy Sabrina family.

Other Indonesian entrepreneurs have decided to use plastic waste to make vases, umbrellas or bags.

But two young Indonesians believe bricks will have access to more consumers. “If we decided to sell expensive decorative goods, only a small number of people would buy our products,” said one of them.

The two women hope to develop their business, which employs four people, and is in talks with a large group of consumers to work together.

Andi Subagio, one of their customers, says he used eco-bricks to pave the aisles of his restaurant. These bricks “are not as fragile as conventional bricks thanks to the plastic inside,” he says. “And it’s the same price.”

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