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    I Tried The Sustainability Trend That's All Over TikTok Right Now, And It Was Eye-Opening

    Hanging on to my plastic trash instead of throwing it away piece by piece was definitely eye-opening.

    Lately, every time I open up TikTok and scroll through my For You Page, I've been seeing videos of people cutting up plastic and stuffing it into water bottles to make something called an eco brick. And it looks like I'm not the only one — videos in the eco brick hashtag have been viewed 18 million times.

    a dad making eco bricks with his son
    Dariogaona / Getty Images

    Eco bricks are a way to dispose of non-recyclable soft plastics and keep them out of landfills. They can be used as building materials for all kinds of projects, giving plastic that can't be recycled a way to be reused. Some people use eco bricks to build their own structures, while others give them away on The Brik Market, an eco brick drop-off and exchange. 

    As an animal lover and someone who had a childhood crush on a Captain Planet character, I try to make more sustainable choices when I can. So I decided to give the eco brick trend a try and saved most* of my soft plastics, like food wrappers, bags, and packaging, for a week.

    TBS / Via

    *Small disclaimer here that I threw some things away because they were too gross and I couldn't deal, and I probably also threw a couple of things out when I was distracted and trying to do, like, 10 chores at once. 

    While I worked on saving up my plastics, I reached out to Lacey, aka @learnwithlaceyyy, to get some pro-tips on starting my eco brick. She's an environmental educator I found on TikTok who's trained in making eco bricks and has shared several videos around the topic.

    lacey saying eco brick videos are blowing up and I wanna make sure that people are getting the right information
    @learnwithlaceyyy / Via

    She says that when you're getting started, it's best to choose a 16-ounce water bottle as your container and make sure you pack the base nice and tight. I was relieved that she suggested a smaller size, because I've seen many TikTokers filling up big 2-liter bottles, and that seemed overwhelming to me from the get-go.

    the base needs to be compact and make sure there is no air space in the bottle
    @learnwithlaceyyy / Via

    I had a 20-ounce water bottle on hand, and it's close enough to the right size, so I set it aside with my growing plastic collection. 

    "It's also really important to cut your plastics into small pieces," she says. "They're much easier to compact this way. It's really tempting to just continue to add, add, add, but in reality that can do more harm than good. I see videos all the time where people have kept adding more plastic and have not focused on the structure."

    you need to cut the plastic you're adding to your bottle and if I hit myself with my ecobrick it hurts
    @learnwithlaceyyy / Via

    "If an eco brick is made incorrectly or if it doesn't meet the 'Global Ecobrick Alliance's Standard Minimum Density,' it won't be structurally sound enough to use in construction projects. This means that the location you've dropped off at or donated your eco brick to may need to completely remove all plastic from your bottle and start over or potentially throw your bottle away because it would require more effort to fix than would have been necessary if it was made correctly to begin with."

    For the bottle I've chosen, roughly 600 milliliters, it will need to weigh at least 200 grams (a little over 7 ounces) to be sturdy enough for construction.

    Finally, I hit the one-week mark, cleared off my table, and dumped out my plastic collection. Seeing all my plastic trash in one place like that was definitely powerful. When you're just throwing it away piece by piece throughout the week, you don't think much about it. But when you see it all together, it just seems like so much waste.

    pile of plastic trash
    Megan Liscomb/BuzzFeed

    It was wild to see how much plastic I ended up with from so many different places: meals and snacks, household products, a takeout bag, and even my cats' prescription food comes shrink wrapped in it. 

    I would really have to go out of my way and change a lot of habits to make even a small dent in my plastic consumption.

    I had wanted to start by cutting up all my plastic, but using the scissors really hurt my hands after a bit, so I switched to packing in the foundation of my brick.

    packing plastic in with a wooden spatula
    Megan Liscomb/BuzzFeed

    It was a lot harder than it looks on TikTok, folks. I used a couple of different tools I found around the house as packing sticks — a wooden spatula handle to compress larger areas and a long metal screwdriver to pack in smaller spaces. 

    I've read that wood is the best material to use for your packing stick, as metal can rupture your bottle, but I didn't want to buy a special tool, so I just used what I had very carefully.

    The soft plastics are so light and airy that they kinda resist being smashed together, especially on the top layer. Every time I push down, the plastic pops back up annoyingly when I release. It also didn't help that at first I was cutting the plastic a little bit too big. I started out making it into little strips, but I realized as I went that smaller bits, more like large confetti pieces, are easier to pack in and get airtight.

    smaller pieces like this are way easier to pack in
    Megan Liscomb/BuzzFeed

    At first, it felt good to be doing something with my hands instead of mindlessly scrolling through the internet like I usually do. But as time went on, I started feeling discouraged with how slowly it was going and how much more trash I still had to deal with. And as Lacey had warned, the process hurt my hands and was a lot of work. 

    Ultimately, I spent my whole lunch hour cutting and packing, and I didn't get anywhere near all of my plastic from the week into the bottle.

    the remaining pile of plastic
    Megan Liscomb/BuzzFeed

    I did, however, listen to a whole podcast, so that was nice.

    I want to at least finish this brick, so I plan to keep going. But I have to say, I can't see myself doing this long-term. There are just so many other important chores that I'm already not doing. I don't have it in me to add another time-consuming task into the mix.

    The author showing their eco brick
    Megan Liscomb/BuzzFeed

    Honestly, if companies could find a way to stop using plastic or severely cut back on it, that would be a much better solution anyway! It really shouldn't be on individuals to spend hours a week disposing of waste in less harmful ways when there are huge corporations that have a lot more power to enact change.

    Lacey agrees that eco bricks are kinda misunderstood, but says they can be a great teaching tool. "It's not a practice that's going to solve the plastic pollution problem or climate change. In reality, it's a mitigation strategy to keep plastic waste out of the landfills. On the pro side, eco bricks can reduce plastic waste that's going to landfills; they can be used as building material, can address plastic waste production at the individual level, and can teach individuals about their own plastic consumption."

    making eco bricks is a mitigation strategy for a much larger problem I like to use eco bricks for education
    @learnwithlaceyyy / Via

    "On the other hand, these are still plastic bottles filled with other plastics; therefore they'll eventually break down like any other plastics, making the solution temporary. It's also a tedious process that requires a lot of time and energy. And in reality, it fails to address the root cause of the plastic production problem — those companies that are making the plastics and leaving the disposal of those products up to the consumers."

    Finally, she says, "We only have one planet, and it's our job to make it last as long as we can. Humans have done a lot to Mother Earth, so it's only right that we try our best to make sure she lasts as long as possible. Making eco bricks isn't something I would expect everyone to be able to do, and to be completely honest, it isn't something that even I actively do all of the time."

    lacey saying this is my eco brick that I made last spring I don't think I finished it until sometime in the summer
    @learnwithlaceyyy / Via

    "Making sustainable choices, such as making eco bricks or recycling, can be overwhelming at times. It's more important to focus on what you can do instead of getting upset over the things you can't. Do what you can, try your best, and remember progress is much more important than perfection!"

    Have you noticed any other sustainability trends that I should try? Tell me about them in the comments!