PLAEX is turning waste into real-life Lego bricks
Posted on July 06, 2021 | By Simon R. Smith | 0 Comments
After working in the construction industry for nearly two decades, Dustin Bowers was disgusted by the amount of waste material generated by building and renovation projects.
“One of the big issues with buildings now is their single-use nature,” Bowers said. “When we go to change it or do a renovation … all of the material that’s in that place inevitably becomes waste material.”
In 2017, Bowers was looking into the issue when he came across a research paper that discussed the use of waste plastic as an aggregate in concrete, and he was inspired.
“After some wrangling and convincing, I got some friends to give me some money to try this crazy idea out,” Bowers said. That idea would become PLAEX, a New Brunswick startup developing a “plug and play” building system which uses interlocking bricks made of mostly recycled materials.
The composite material used to make PLAEX’s bricks is about 90 per cent hard-to-recycle plastic waste which typically requires “massive amounts of energy” to sort and, when it isn’t recycled, is sometimes burned, Bowers said. PLAEX’s system requires less preprocessing and a less complicated system than other current methods to get the waste ready for production, he said.
At the outset, Bowers and his team knew they needed to find consistent suppliers and after asking themselves, “What industries produce large volumes of plastic waste that is currently not being dealt with,” he said, “it dawned on us.”
“The agricultural industry is kind of number one on that list,” he said. “When we’re able to source large volumes of very consistent material from a waste supplier, that’s beneficial on our side for streamlining our production process.”
In addition to the waste-reduction benefits of PLAEX bricks, Bowers said, they’re also much easier to assemble than traditional building materials.
“Anybody can install these in very little time with very little training,” he said. “We’re also facing labour shortages in the construction industry, especially around skilled trades. This reduces the skill barrier to getting buildings built.”
The end-goal, Bowers said, is to be a global company, offering an entire modular, no-cut system, including electrical, lighting and plumbing, that can be taken apart and reused. But for now, PLAEX’s bricks are undergoing testing for CSA approval for use in non-occupied structures like retaining walls, flood walls and sheds, and the company will begin taking orders in August. Bowers said he hopes the bricks will be approved for residential use by 2023.
Bowers plans to scale up production at a new facility after a round of seed funding this fall. The founder is currently taking part in two startup cohort programs: Energia Ventures in Fredericton and Volta Cohort in Halifax. •
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