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Cape Town commercial building showcases pioneering use of ecobricks

19th March 2020

By: Kim Cloete

Creamer Media Correspondent


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A new building under construction at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront has become among the first commercial buildings in the world to use ecobrick technology.  

Recycled beverage bottles, including the typical 2 litre bottles, are being used as ecobricks in the construction of The Ridge, a custom-designed green building to accommodate the Cape Town offices of international professional services firm Deloitte.

The bottles are filled to constant density with waste plastics and can take up to 250 small size chip packets or 56 shopping plastic bags in each bottle. They weigh an average of 600 g.  The ecobricks were donated by community volunteers and scholars from in and around Cape Town.

The main contractor does quality control on site. Density is important, so each ecobrick has to be checked for compliance. The bottles are then used as void formers.

“To the best of our knowledge, we are the first large commercial building to be using this regenerative technology,” says V&A Waterfront development director Mark Noble.

“It’s a very environmentally conscious way of burying waste but also replacing environmentally insensitive building materials,” he tells Engineering News.

Void formers are used to ‘fill’ space and reduce the amount of concrete required.

“Usually big chunks of expanded polystyrene are used. Firstly, it’s a virgin plastic. It doesn’t biodegrade at all. When it is shaped to fit and then cut on site, a lot of the waste – little white balls – are blown into storm water systems and washed out to sea. They are in the system forever,” explains Noble.  

The switch to ecobricks is a way of mitigating this kind of waste.

Noble says the developers used ecobricks in non-load-bearing parts of the building, such as in the floor slabs in the central toilet areas.

The Ridge project will use 12 000 ecobricks. This will lead to a displacement of 57 t of concrete in the absence of any other common void forming material being used.

The project has been seen as a win-win between developers and the community.

As an existing partner of the V&A, Ian Dommisse from Ecobrick Exchange has involved schools and communities in Cape Town in recycling and making the ecobricks. The Eros School for physically and mentally challenged children in Athlone, together with Edgemead Primary, Capricorn Primary in Muizenberg, as well as Tracy Pretorius, a self-confessed eco-warrior, have helped to churn out the ecobricks.

Any kind of everyday plastic, such as sweet wrappers, chip packets and plastic bags can be used to fill the two litre bottles. Communities, schools and nongovernmental organisations can sell their ecobricks to raise money for community projects.

Noble hopes that the use of ecobricks in a commercial building will set a benchmark for future industry projects in South Africa and around the world.

It is estimated that in South Africa, 16% of plastic is recycled, 10% ends up in the waterways and ocean and the remainder (74%) ends up in landfill.

The ecobricks element is one sustainability-focused aspect of the 8 500 m2 building. The development also includes a groundbreaking ‘central street’ concept naturally ventilated with fresh air and breakaway zones.  The use of timber as the façade of the commercial building is a first in South Africa. The building features a cross-laminated timber façade that significantly reduces the carbon footprint of the building.

“We have spent a lot of time and energy on the high performance façade that keeps the energy in,” says Noble. The façade is designed to facilitate passive climate control inside.

“I think we are at the forefront of development on the continent and are up there with a lot of interesting practices and clients around the world. We have tried to do the responsible thing with everything in this building,” he adds.

The building has been designed in line with Deloitte’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The V&A is jointly owned by Growthpoint Properties and the Government Employees Pension Fund, represented by the Public Investment Corporation Limited.


Edited by Creamer Media Reporter



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