Turning plastic waste into building bricks
SUMMER SERIES - Master's project (4). For her Master’s project in civil engineering, Selina Heiniger took on a challenge that’s aligned with her desire to help preserve the environment. She’s developing a new building material that’s made from plastic waste, concrete and terracotta.
Heiniger completed high school in Bern Canton and then enrolled in EPFL’s civil engineering program – but only part time, since she also held a 30% to 50% job at a Lausanne-based civil engineering firm.
For her Master’s project, Heiniger wanted to address two related challenges: reducing the amount of pollution caused by plastic waste, and developing construction methods that consume fewer raw materials.
She therefore worked on developing bricks made of recovered plastic – polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) – along with crushed terracotta brick and recycled concrete. Her bricks are designed to interlock so that no mortar is required. Initial tests are encouraging, but the invention is in the prototype stage so there are still some issues to be resolved. Heiniger’s work nevertheless stands to deliver significant benefits in shrinking the construction industry’s carbon footprint.
Heiniger’s Master’s project was supervised jointly by Corentin Fivet, the head of EPFL’s Structural Exploration Laboratory (SXL) within the School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC), and Yves Leterrier, a senior scientist at EPFL’s Laboratory for Processing of Advanced Composites (LPAC), within the School of Engineering (STI). She also received assistance from Maléna Bastien Masse, a postdoc at SXL, and Joanne Vaucher, an engineer at LPAC.
Selina Heiniger, "Bricks built from recycled thermoplatics", Master project, Civil Engineering, directed by Corentin Fivet and Yves Leterrier, School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC), EPFL, 2022.