From a distance, a new home in rural Nova Scotia looks like it might be made of wood. But the structure—hidden under recycled aluminum siding laser-printed with a cedar print—was built from 600,000 recycled plastic bottles, shredded and melted and made into six-inch-thick walls.
“This is a way to get rid of plastic waste and at the same time develop structures that are sustainable,” says David Saulnier, cofounder of JD Composites, the startup that built the prototype house. The recycled-plastic panels provide more insulation than typical walls, so homeowners can save energy in heating and cooling.
Using this type of panel to build a house isn’t new, but the company chose to use a fully recycled material to try to tackle the problem of plastic pollution. Each minute, by one estimate, consumers buy at least one million single-use plastic bottles; the majority end up in landfills or in waterways, not at recycling plants. The startup partnered with Armacell, a Belgian company that uses bottles rejected by the recycling industry to build a foam core from 100% recycled plastic. JD Composites trims that material and laminates it to create each panel.
Though the walls are lightweight, they’re engineered to be strong. In testing at a certification facility, an eight-foot chunk of the wall withstood 326-mile-an-hour wind speeds, twice as strong as a Category 5 hurricane. “They basically couldn’t destroy the panel in the test chamber,” Saulnier says. “They had never loaded a panel by hand in the test chamber that they couldn’t break, ever. Ours was the first.”
The panels are faster to put together than typical home construction. A week ago, a flatbed trailer arrived at the building site with around 170 panels, each designed for a different position in the home, and the builders completed the walls in seven hours. The next day, they completed the roof, made from the same material. The structure eliminates the need for framing, separate insulation, siding, shingles on the roof, and nails; the panels are chemically bonded together, helping make the whole structure stronger. Saulnier sees it as a solution for housing in hurricane-prone regions and for disaster relief. The cost for the prototype home was comparable to conventional construction. Over the life of a mortgage, Saulnier says that homeowners could save tens of thousands of dollars because of the home’s energy efficiency.
The first house, at 2,000 square feet, will be rented on Airbnb before going on the market, and the company hopes to quickly expand—in part, to make better use of the enormous volume of plastic that is currently being thrown out. “I believe the four major PET manufacturers are only dipping into 0.004% of available PET,” he says. “It would be really nice if these structures started popping up all over the planet and we could bring that number to 1%.”