How many recycled PET bottles does it take to build a house? Canadian startup JD Composites has the answer: 612,000 recycled plastic bottles converted into plastic sheets. The result: a 2,000-square-foot prototype house in Nova Scotia.
“You can design anything with a plastic core,” David Saulnier, cofounder of JD Composites, recently told TriplePundit.
What was Saulnier’s inspiration for repurposing all those bottles? “Building with 100 percent recycled materials was JD Composites’ way of trying to reduce plastic waste while at the same time creating a viable building product.”
The panels were made completely from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a type of plastic used to make beverage bottles and other consumer goods. Armacell, a Belgian company, supplied what ended up being the recycled, or we could also say, raw materials.
According to JD Composites, the house is the world’s first using 100 percent recycled PET in a structurally insulated panel (SIP) home. Even the structural beams are plastic. The company financed the project with some assistance from the Canadian government, Saulnier explained to 3p.
The house met all building codes, and since there are no seams or thermal breaks, it is both solid and highly-energy efficient, he added. “Recycled plastic structures should last forever; they don’t rot, even if they are damaged,” Saulnier said.
Using recycled plastic makes sense from both a business and energy perspective, he added. Construction costs were about the same as using wood, perhaps a bit higher since this house is a prototype, Saulnier explained. In terms of energy costs, the estimated savings over the life of a 25-year mortgage are $60,000 to $80,000, he said.
Turning recycled plastic into building materials also chips away at the world’s expanding mountain of discarded bottles. Currently approximately 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute worldwide, and the number is expected to increase another 20 percent by 2021, according to The Guardian.
Just three years ago, 480 billion plastic bottles were bought worldwide, but fewer than half got recycled with the rest dumped into landfills or waterways. In the U.S. alone, 1,500 plastic bottles are used every second and more than 38 billion water bottles end up in landfills.
While one plastic house is not an answer to the plastic bottle surplus, Saulnier said he hopes it will spur action. “I’d definitely ask governments for more support in pushing this initiative, and also teaching younger adults and even children about the advantages of recycling more than they do now.”
Eventually, JD Composites’ house will be sold, but for now it will be rented as an AirBnb to show it off to the public. The company is already working on its next project, an outdoor restroom facility for the town of Mavilette, Nova Scotia, built entirely of recycled plastic, making it the first of its kind to be financed by a municipality in Canada.
“I think this house will prove positive for a lot of people,” Saulnier said. “It’s good to have a positive plastic story for a change.”
Could this idea scale up? We’ve long been familiar with apparel, shoes and even printer cartridges made out of recycled plastic. Builders may want to take a close look at this project, which not only takes on the mounting global plastic waste crisis, but also provides a home that could prove to be resilient to climate change.
Image credit: JD Composites
Ellen R. Delisio is a freelance writer and paraeducator who lives in Middletown, CT. Over the past 30 years, her writing has focused on life science, sustainability and education issues. Ellen is an avid reader and beach-goer.