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Startup turns trash into construction-grade building blocks: 'We don't burn it, we don't melt it, we don't liquify it'

"Every community struggles with plastic waste."

“Every community struggles with plastic waste."

Photo Credit: ByFusion

If you ever played with Lego as a kid, it's likely you dreamt of building a life-sized construction from the tiny plastic blocks.

A Los Angeles-based startup has taken that idea and built on it, creating bricks out of recycled plastic that are strong enough to be used in construction.

ByFusion takes everything from plastic bottles to grocery bags and puts it through a process that fuses it all together to create one huge plastic block called a ByBlock. 

It's an impressive use of an otherwise polluting material that often ends up in landfills or in water sources, impacting fragile ecosystems and breaking down into harmful microplastics

Now, Tucson, Arizona, has embraced the ByBlocks after a hugely successful pilot project championed by city councilman Steve Kozachik.

After observing that contaminated plastic waste could not be sent for recycling and was costing the city around $300,000 a year in fees to public services to solve the problem, he looked at a different option.

According to Fronteras Desk, he asked residents to bring plastic waste to a collection point at his office. After collecting enough, he sent it to ByFusion's facility in Los Angeles, where the plastic was transformed into bricks.

Those bricks have since been used to build raised flower beds and park benches, and the scheme has captured the attention of the city's residents. 

Kozachik soon spotted a problem, though. Driving all that waste to California and bringing the blocks back wasn't the most environmentally friendly process in terms of dirty-fuel pollution from the vehicles on the journey.

With that in mind, ByFusion is bringing its technology to Tucson, where a $2.4 million facility will be built at a local landfill to make the ByBlocks on-site.

Just don't call it recycling. 

"Recycling is about taking the water bottles and the food products, you know, the things that have high value, and reconstituting them into pellets and then transforming those back into other, similar products," ByFusion CEO and founder Heidi Kujawa told Fronteras Desk. 

"We don't burn it, we don't melt it, we don't liquify it," she said. "We literally fuse it together."

"But there's very much a process that happens between water bottle one and water bottle two, that's recycling. That's not what we're about. We really view ourselves as a re-purposer, we're not changing the material that's going in the machine."

The Tucson project has so far collected over 100 tons of plastic, and ByBlocks might soon be used in the construction of municipal buildings. 

It's not the only unique material that might otherwise reach landfill that is being repurposed for construction. Researchers in Australia have been using coffee grounds in concrete mixture to make it up to 30% stronger.

ByFusion mostly uses all-electric processing units to make bricks that generate 83% less carbon pollution in production than concrete blocks, per the company website. It's hoping to take its bricks global, and the goal is to reuse 100 million tons of plastic by 2030, reports a Fast Company article posted on the ByFusion site.

"Every community struggles with plastic waste," Kujawa told CNN in 2022. "Putting in a Blocker [System] is going to help reduce landfill, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce transportation needs, all of that other good stuff."

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