LYNN — If every household in Lynn had a new recycling bin labeled “ecobricks” it would reduce waste, create jobs and build homes.
That’s according to Nathan Gray, who founded the nonprofit House Factory last year and has been coordinating its flagship “ecobricks” project since September.
Ecobricks, Gray said, are plastic bottles stuffed with non-recyclable soft plastics, such as candy bar wrappers, single-cheese-slice wrappers and zip-close bags.
With a background in construction, Gray said ecobricks are actually sturdy enough to be substituted for real bricks, and he is collecting 12,000 of them to construct a fully-functioning modular home on his Newbury property.
Gray, who was “born and raised” in Lynn, is looking to his hometown for help building his ecobrick home.
“Lynn has opened the doors of communication,” Gray said.
Throughout the fall, Gray visited public schools across the North Shore, beginning with Lynn’s Thurgood Marshall Middle School and Newbury Elementary School, demonstrating to teachers and students how to create ecobricks. With 15 schools now participating, Gray has around 300 ecobricks in his possession, and the schools are continuing to participate in the project in science classes and environmental clubs.
On Feb. 25 at 6 p.m., Gray is meeting with city officials to talk about extending the program to all of Lynn’s public schools.
Gray has also set up a tentative build-your-own-ecobrick day at Marshall Middle School on April 25.
Gray said he will also be talking with officials about the prospect of households having an additional recycling bin labeled “ecobricks,” so he can collect ecobricks that people make at home, as well as necessary materials. This would encourage people to recycle soft plastics, which are normally thrown in the garbage, and potentially create new waste disposal jobs, while also creating a resource that can build modular homes, he said.
“It’s my idea to create a whole new line of recycling starting with the city of Lynn,” Gray said.
According to Gray, it will take support for several different city departments, including the Department of Public Works, to create a city-wide ecobricks recycling program, but he already has support from Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre.
“The City of Lynn welcomes any opportunity to be more responsible when it comes to creative ways to preserve our environment,” LaPierre said. “This thinking, out-of-the-box concept is both innovative and offers direct civic engagement for individuals and families.”
According to Gray, his lived experiences led him to found House Factory, which seeks to build “affordable, innovative and sustainable” modular homes. He spent eight years in the National Guard, including a year’s deployment to Iraq in 2005 and 2006, and has worked as a mason, landscaper and most recently as the head of his own construction business, Nathan M. Gray Builders.
“Being in the construction industry and seeing all the waste and disarray of the construction industry in general has made me want to open up this nonprofit,” Gray said.
Gray did not invent the idea of ecobricks, and they have been used to build garden infrastructure, benches and, indeed, homes at various locations across the globe. In 2013, the Global Ecobrick Alliance was founded to link various ecobrick movements in Germany, Indonesia and the U.K.
Last year, Gray heard about the phenomenon from a relative from the U.K. Having made enough money from running his construction company, and thinking about the environment and his three-year-old’s future, Gray started his nonprofit, and chose an ecobrick home as its first project.
“It’s taken off,” Gray said. “I find teachers that want to be involved and do an ecobrick building day at their school, or teach hundreds of students how.”
Ecobricks are made by first cleaning a 16 to 20 ounce plastic bottle and the soft plastics that will be stuffed into it, then forcing the plastic into the bottle until it is packed full. The whole thing weighs about five ounces. According to Gray, an ecobrick can fit around 25 single-use plastic bags inside.
For Gray, the students he has taught have come up with the most creative ways to use ecobricks.
“Students love it, and it’s great seeing all the kids thinking more inventively, like, ‘Oh, I could build a stool out of this, or table out of this.’ A five-year-old told me we could build an ecobrick collection bin out of ecobricks,” Gray said.
The resulting home will be built out of around 4,000 pounds of plastic. Ecobricks are important, Gray said, because they add value to soft plastics, which are normally considered garbage and end up in landfills.
“You’re creating value on plastics that were otherwise considered a nuisance and also cost money to get rid of. You’re creating value on something that was not of value before,” Gray said.
Gray is relying on House Factory volunteers and interns to help physically build the home, which has to be termed a “shed” so it doesn’t violate any building codes in Newbury. He’s also had solar panels donated to install on the finished structure.
Gray has also received a grant from the Lynn Cultural Council for $500 to teach local students how to make ecobricks, and he is collecting donations to expand the project.
For more information, or to get involved with House Factory, visit www.homefactory.us.