Harvey Lacey Wants to Rebuild the (Third) World One Bale of Recycled Plastic at a Time

Categories: The Environment
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From a video you'll find after the jump, Harvey Lacey and the building blocks of his building blocks
For the last few weeks, Brother Bill Holston's been on me to write about longtime Friend of Unfair Park Harvey Lacey's save-the-world project -- which, till Tuesday morning, wasn't completely clear to me, as it were. But earlier this week, Harvey, who lives up in Wylie, sent me a handful of videos, the first part of which you'll find after the jump; several hours later came the link to his new website, Recycled Plastic Block Housing, the name of which explains it all.

I've had a couple of long talks with Harvey about his project in the last couple of days -- one that began, he explains, with a conversation in early November with Kenyan architect Ronald Omyonga, the co-creator of the HabiHut who was speaking at SMU. A few days later, Harvey says, he woke from a dream in which he "was baling plastic blocks just like I would bale hay or straw, using wire, making building blocks." Those blocks, he explains, would be made from plastic trash -- not the good stuff either, but the the crap that fills landfills and pollutes waterways and everywhere else.

"We're taking the plastic out of the landfill and making a wall," he says. "Let's make a difference in the world."

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A short stack of Harvey's plastic blocks
It's not the newest idea -- building blocks out of tossed-out plastic. But unlike, say, the Recy-Blocks, Harvey's idea doesn't involve heating the plastic. And there's no electricity involved. Harvey, a gate-maker and fence-builder by trade who holds a handful of patents, has instead created a device that allows you to compress and bale the plastic with a hand crank. You'll see it on the other side.

On his new website just today, Harvey's posted an essay titled, simply, "Why?" Maybe it has to do with my pestering him in recent days with questions like, "Why you?" and "Why now?" and "Why hasn't someone else thought of this?" You can read the answers over there. But as Harvey's explained to me: He wants to use these blocks to build houses in Third World countries where cheap housing materials aren't available. He figures a 12-foot-by-12-foot space would run, oh, between $300 and $500. That's one-fifth the cost of a HabiHut -- and, as Harvey reminds, if an earthquake were to crumble the plastic-block house, the building material would remain whole and viable.

Harvey doesn't expect to make a cent of this, by the way. It's all open source, he says.

"I can see them yuppies spending $1,000 on [the block-maker] and putting them in their backyards and making retaining walls," he says. "There's a market for that. But in places where the only thing people have to make homes is stone and mortar, they can take all this plastic trash from the big cities and make good homes that are better-insulated than mud or rock. And if they do fall down, just reuse them. This is open to the world."

Harvey likes to say this is but the beginning of the discussion -- which is one reason he's documented everything on his website. If you like it, do something with it; if you think it's flawed, then fix it.

"The way I see it is, what the end product might be, what people end up doing with this, is something I can't even conceive of," he says. "What I have done is come up with the idea, that we don't have to use heat or chemicals to recycle plastic and can do it as basic as possible, like baling hay, in order to make shelters. If this was up to me, I've got the hydrolic equipment, and we'd go snap, crackle. pop. But what I've tried to do is find a balance between making it where any idiot can do it and making it where it's a jumping-off point. I've made a diving board.

"My biggest philosophical thing is I've given people fishing poles. People can do this, and it can be their thing. Now, I understand there will probably be some American marketing in this, in that there will be some pretty ingenious people who will step forward and make components and make money off this. But I look forward to seeing how people work with this. I thought what I'd done was pretty ingenious, but I am sure that someone will come up with something that makes my idea look stupid. But this is in my DNA: When they told me I couldn't do that, well, I did it anyway."

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