Earthquake-resistant school built from recycled plastic in Indonesia – ABC News

By Mariah Papadopoulos
Supplied: Fraser Morton
Three years after the Indonesian island of Lombok was devastated by earthquakes, a team of Australian and Indonesian charity organisations have set up Asia's first sustainable and earthquake-resistant school on the island.
Entire villages were destroyed, more than 550 people were killed and 417,000 displaced when two earthquakes hit the island on August 5 and 19, 2018.
Infrastructure like businesses, homes and schools were wiped out, and as part of the rebuilding process, a new eco-friendly and earthquake-resistant school, SDN 4 Taman Sari, was constructed in June.
It's located in Taman Sari village, 10 kilometres north of the provincial capital Mataram.
The key to the school's sustainability and resilience to earthquakes is the use of 'eco-blocks', which are made from recycled plastic mixed with wood.
They're lightweight, sturdy and easy to assemble — it only took six days to build the SDN 4 Taman Sari school.
After laying the foundations, the blocks can be formed into walls by stacking them by hand. Then the roof and windows are added.
Supplied: Eszter Papp
The blocks are designed to avoid causing fatal injuries in an earthquake.
Due to their elasticity, they are less likely to crumble or cave in.
Seismic resistance, or the ability to withstand an earthquake, is increased because walls made of eco-blocks flex rather than snap.
Their light weight, and the way the blocks fit together, also means they can tolerate much more movement than conventional bricks and mortar.
Duncan Ward is the founder and CEO of Classroom of Hope, the Australian charity organisation that led the eco-block school project in Lombok.
He started Classroom of Hope in 2012 with the mission of helping children living in poverty gain access to education. So far, the organisation has built more than 75 schools throughout Asia and Africa.
Supplied: Eszter Papp
SDN 4 Taman Sari is the first school made from eco-blocks, though Mr Ward said his organisation has plans to build many more.
"[These schools] are so much more durable, they're lightweight, they're cost effective, and they're going to last 100-plus years, and they're cleaning up the environment," Mr Ward said.
Classroom of Hope collaborated with a number of partners, including local government as well as the Pelita Foundation charity.
Supplied: Eszter Papp
Pelita, which means 'shining light' in Indonesian, is a not-for-profit local charity in Lombok that supports education across the island.
Pelita's CEO Satriawan Amri said the initial reaction to the idea of an eco-block school was mixed.
"When I brought up the idea, [people] were a bit unsure," he said.
"But afterwards, I showed them a few examples of similar buildings. I explained the materials and how [this project] would be good for the environment since it would use recycled plastic."
By the time construction began, most were eager to see the new school completed.
"When the community started to see the materials arriving and the school beginning to take form, the children couldn't wait to start having classes there," Mr Amri said.
Supplied: Eszter Papp
Marizal has been teaching physical education in West Lombok for 11 years. He is now at SDN 4 Taman Sari.
With the establishment of the new school, he has seen an extraordinary transformation.
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"Our school, which used to be a temporary pop-up school, with plywood walls and dirt floors, has now become a beautiful, clean and tidy eco-block school," he said.
Pazila Aulia, a year five student at SDN 4 Taman Sari, was excited to resume learning at the new school.
"I loved seeing the building go up, with its walls arranged like lego. It looks very neat – it's beautiful," she said.
"It looks a bit like bamboo … I'm really enjoying this school, I'm more enthusiastic about learning because it's not too hot anymore."
The idea of an eco-block school first arose in 2018, when Classroom of Hope was providing support in Lombok after the earthquakes.
At the time, Mr Ward was living in Bali with his family, after they moved from Perth.
"We got rocked here in Bali. I remember waking up, running to grab my daughter and running outside to the rice paddies with my wife because the whole house was shaking," he said.
"The next morning, I was inundated with phone calls from people I know who live on Lombok, on the Gili islands, expats, locals — people I care about — whose homes had been destroyed."
Supplied: Eszter Papp
Mr Ward travelled to Lombok and Classroom of Hope became involved with the recovery effort shortly after.
"We were part of the first response in trying to raise money from a disaster relief perspective, for search and rescue, water, food, and just getting people to safety in the first instance," he said.
Together with Pelita Foundation, they set up 23 pop-up schools, which allowed 4,000 children to return to school. But it wasn't a permanent solution.
"The whole place was like a war zone," Mr Ward said.
"The government spoke to us and asked if we could build permanent structures. I said, 'No, we can't, because all your permanent structures are in rubble.'
"That started sending my mind to — how can we build permanent structures that are earthquake resistant?"
Mr Ward contacted Block Solutions, the Finnish company that is responsible for the eco-block technology. It was already using eco-blocks to build low-income housing projects in Africa.
Block Solutions uses recycled plastic, breaking it down into granules and then mixing it with wood fibres. That mixture is then processed by an injection-molding machine to create the eco-clocks.
According to Mr Ward, this is the ideal material to rebuild permanent schools in earthquake-prone areas.
Supplied: Eszter Papp
"For every classroom you're building, you're removing two to three tonnes of plastic waste [from the environment]," he said. 
"Indonesia being the second biggest polluter in the world, it makes sense … and it aligns with what the government is trying to do."
By mid 2021, the planning process was finished and the materials had arrived in Lombok from Finland. It then took six days to build.
Marizal hopes this method will be used more widely to provide education to communities still recovering from the earthquakes.
"I think these eco-blocks are a very fitting solution to set up a safe and comfortable system of building schools," he said.
Classroom of Hope's next goal is to build a factory in Indonesia so that plastic waste can be gathered from the local area — rather than from Finland – and processed locally.
With the help of an Indonesian branch of Block Solutions, Classroom of Hope could soon construct other buildings, such as houses for people whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake.
Supplied: Fraser Morton
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