The building blocks of learning

  • Dr. Robert Zelkovsky / Special to The Garden Island

    Volunteers with the Surfrider Foundation pour a concrete slab for the Byfusion Byblock structure Island School is building at its Puhi campus, though a partnership with Surfrider Foundation.

PUHI — Island School is making a building out of plastic.

Plastic blocks, that is. They’re called “Byblocks,” and are made by a company called ByFusion Inc. They’re the size of concrete blocks, made from marine debris gathered on Kauai’s shores, and should be arriving Monday on-island for the project.

The concrete slab is poured for the little building, situated on the soccer field behind the Island School gym, and is a proof-of-concept project that organizers hope will lead to a future athletic shelter on the Puhi campus.

The school is partnering with the Kauai Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation on the project as a way to educate and involve students, and to help Surfrider with research and development of new ways to use the 10,000 pounds of marine debris that’s cleaned off of Kauai beaches every single month.

Of that 10,000 pounds, 80 percent by weight is comprised of nets, buoys, ropes, lines and baskets, according to Surfrider senior science adviser Carl Berg.

“What do we do with it all?” Berg asked. “We’ve sent some of it to make lotion bottles and sneakers, and we’ve been sending it to H-Power.”

H-Power, a waste-to-energy plant on Oahu, has been the longest-lasting of those endeavors, but Surfrider has recently stopped sending marine debris to the facility because of its level of greenhouse gas emissions.

“We got the data back (on H-Power) and were totally amazed at all the greenhouse gasses that come out of that smokestack,” Berg said. “I said ‘no, I can’t condone that.’”

The ByFusion Byblocks could be a solution.

Created in New Zealand by the company’s only facility, the blocks fit together like puzzle pieces, and are expected to be a cheaper form of construction because they don’t require cement to glue them together, and they’re lighter, making construction faster and labor costs go down.

The blocks themselves are made out of shredded, cleaned plastic waste that’s compressed into a solid plastic block. The Island School shelter will be the first structure built in the U.S., and will be completed this summer.

The general contractor on the project is Rob Brower.

Longterm goals, according to Berg, are to open the door for a ByFusion facility in Hawaii, but the cost of that kind of project could run between $1 million and $3 million.

“We have to show this is stable and can be used, then find a place to put it with enough plastic waste, and then come up with funding ideas,” Berg said.

The project at hand, however, is well underway. The blocks are on their way from Oahu, and the head of ByFusion Inc. is on his way from New Zealand to oversee building and offer advice.

The shelter will have walls built from plastic household waste and plastic marine debris collected from Kauai, much of that plastic collected by Island School students.

“Island School, having a strong recycling program, has often collaborated with Surfrider in doing beach cleanups where marine debris is collected, sorted and weighed,” Island School officials said in a press release about the project.

Students in media class are videoing the project and plan to chronicle the entirety for their own studies, and for publishing on social media.

Monday, when the blocks arrive, Island School and Surfrider Foundation are holding an open house that will stretch through Tuesday. That will include a chance for people to wander through the site and learn about the project, as well as see volunteers and contracted workers drill and set rebar, and build the walls.

After that, the roof will be attached, and then the entire building covered in stucco.

“That way we sequester the plastic. No gasses get out of there,” Berg said.

Just like a puzzle, the blocks will fit together to create the structure and give organizers a good idea of how it will work on a larger scale.

“It’s a pilot, proof-of-concept project,” Berg said.

•••

Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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