From Trash to Home, Sweet Home

Wylie man invents polluting materials such as plastic bags, Styrofoam into building blocks

A Wylie inventor says his idea of turning trash into treasure could change the way developing countries build and rebuild homes, especially following a natural disaster.

Harvey Lacey says turning polluting materials such as plastic bags and Styrofoam into building blocks is a sustainable option. The UBUNTU-BLOX machine forms and wires the blocks with human help.

"These blocks will last 500 years," he said.

According to Sam Bloch, executive director of nonprofit Haiti Communitere, trash is one of the most plentiful resources in Haiti, a country still recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2010.

"We're still looking at over half a million people living under tarps, and it has been two years," Bloch said.

Haiti Communitere plans to provide labor training to Haitian women and begin the process of building homes by working with Lacey's machine.

"When we look at all the places in the world, there is a base material there that we can use," Lacey said.

The material is sustainable and durable, he said. When the blocks, which are tightened by wiring and reinforced with rebar, are tested in simulations of hurricane winds or a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, the structure stands strong, Lacey said.

"It's all tied together," he said. It's wired."

The blocks are also significantly lighter than cinder blocks, a heavy building material blamed for crushing earthquake victims in the Haiti earthquake.

"It's a common saying that it's not earthquakes that kill people, houses kill people," Bloch said.

Each block only weights about 1.5 pounds. Bloch and Lacey said that even if a UBUNTU-BLOX home did collapse, it would not have the same crushing effect as one made of cinder blocks.

Following testing in Plano, Lacey and Bloch will leave this week to continue recovery work in Haiti.

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