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AdobeUSA 2009, May 15-16

Adobe Association of the Southwest and NNMC, El Rito, NM


Plínio Santos-Filho, Ph.D.
Antônio Gomes dos Santos-Filho
Carla Andrade Reis, B.Sc. Design
Authors Leandro Leonel de Medeiros
Euma Leônidas Gomes
Eliane Bezerra
Valdicéia Bezerra
Jacqueline dos Santos
Agência de Estudos e Restauro do Patrimônio -
Mailing Rua Antônio Vitrúvio, 71
Poço da Panela, Recife, Pernambuco
Brazil 52061-210 Web site:


Shredded supermarket plastic bags (SSPB) are used in substitution of vegetable fibers in the
production of sun dried and cement stabilized adobe bricks. Also, long braids of recycled plastic
bags that have been heat shrunk in a solar oven are used structurally in foundations and as
reinforcement in load bearing walls. The shredding of plastic bags is done manually or by the
use of an office paper shredder. Shredded plastic bags (and other cut plastic films,) once
incorporated in adobe bricks work as efficient long plastic fibers assuring a much stronger
construction element. The quantity of shredded plastic to be incorporated into one individual
adobe brick is equivalent, by volume, to the amount of vegetable fiber customarily used in the
making of adobe bricks. Sun dried or 5% cement stabilized clay bricks gain in compression and
traction resistance with the addition of plastic fibers from recycled supermarket bags. The
usage of such widely available material as plastic bags in the construction of houses for the
poor is being experiment in the slave descendent community of São Lorenço (Saint Laurence),
County of Goiana and State of Pernambuco, Brazil, by the NGO and NFP AERPA, as part of a
construction-training program. As vegetable fiber replacement in adobe bricks and as
horizontal structural reinforcement within adobe walls, plastic bags are put to a noble use, as an
alternative to ending up as enormous quantities in landfills. This work is partially funded by a
grant from the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology, Secretary of Social Inclusion.


Shredded plastic bags, recycled plastic, adobe brick, construction element, popular housing
AdobeUSA 2009, May 15-16
Adobe Association of the Southwest and NNMC, El Rito, NM


The community of São Lourenço in County of Goiana, State of Pernambuco, Northeast Brazil, was
created by runaway slaves from sugarcane plantations from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
Currently, there are about 2500 individuals and the women are mostly responsible for the small
clam gathering that provides the families income. The Goiana River divides the states of
Pernambuco and Paraiba, and its delta still maintains strips of original vegetation and native
tropical forest. Income for the poor families is mostly from federal subsidy programs, which
require parents to send their kids to school in order to receive family sponsorships. It is estimated
that the average family income does not exceed US$ 200/month. During the months when clam
gathering is not permitted. Housing, outside São Lourenço Main Street, is rather simple and most
of the 30 m2 (330 ft2, on the average) are built using the local clay and a very thin and straight
delta river mangrove shrub. The male population works in the sugarcane fields and industry, which
also is seasonal. During the off months, while sugarcane is not ready for harvesting, hungers in the
community and male alcoholism reach its highest marks.

The Agência de Estudos e Restauro do Patrimônio – AERPA, a not-for-profit and non-

governmental organization, started working with the clam gathering women of São Lourenço 2
years ago. Local women had heard that we where conducting mason and craft courses in the city of
Goiana, 30 km away, aiming at constructing a solar community kitchen. We were invited to visit
the village of São Lourenço, and a date was set for the first meeting. The first was very strange,
because a committee of local politicians came along, and it made sure that it took all of the
initiative to present the place and its inhabitants first hand to us. Very suspicious of the event, of
the 48 listed clam gathering women, part of an informal association, only one of their houses was
visited. The owners did not talk much, and the politicians did all the talking. During a moment of
distraction of the officials, we requested to meet with the Marisqueiras (clam gathering women)
alone, in another date. Telephone numbers were exchanged, and before dusk we departed. In the
following week, we came for a morning meeting with the Marisqueiras, and the place chosen was a
house that is used for the kindergarten classes. Upon arrival, the representative of the Marisqueiras
association greeted us; she took us to the modest meeting classroom. There, we encountered the
President of the County Fishermen Cooperative, the Secretary of Environment and Fishing of
Goiana. There also was a lady that said directed an NGO that worked with the community. But
where were the Marisqueiras? It was already the second time that we were in São Lourenço and we
only had glimpses of them!

Well, it comes a time went drastic measures have to be taken. We were there on our time, paying
for our own gasoline, already for a second time. I asked the Marisqueiras Association
representative to tell me where the Marisqueiras were. She said they were home. But, weren’t they
supposed to come to this meeting? She said yes. Well, why aren’t they here then … She did not
answer. As the executive-director of AERPA I kindly stated that our presence there was to have a
meeting with the Marisqueiras, and that we had absolutely nothing to do with the local politics or
divisions of local power. Then, I said that the meeting had been requested with the 48
Marisqueiras, and no one else. I then asked the Marisqueiras representative she knew the others
wanted to come to the meeting. She said yes. I, then, expelled all parties that were not invited to the
meeting from the room. It was simply put that their presence were not welcomed at that time and
that we did not have the costume of entering into other peoples businesses and meeting, no matter
how knowledgeable of the situation we were! There was a bit of turmoil and protest, and the not
invited went away in a very vocal fashion. About twenty minutes later, of the 48 Marisqueiras, 36
were in the room! Right after we presented ourselves, the first question Joana, Marisqueira, asked
me was: “ what do you have to do with those people”? We have been there now for about 2 years.

AERPA social programs and its partnerships aim for social inclusion. We have since that meeting
approved 2 projects with the Ministry of Science and Technology of Brazil, MCT, for the
community of Marisqueiras, through the Department of Design and Development of Products, of
AdobeUSA 2009, May 15-16
Adobe Association of the Southwest and NNMC, El Rito, NM

the Federal University of Pernambuco - UFPE. We are finishing a 316 m2 (3506 ft2)
Technological Vocational Center (CVT) in São Lourenço. It will work with artistic and functional
ceramics; will have a 10 m2 (111 ft2) stationary mirror on the roof of the solar kitchen capable of
8-kilowatt peak power with a high efficiency wood stove as backup for cooking clams and
seafood; and will conduct regular classes on building and construction of popular housing and low
cost decentralized water and sewage systems. The CVT itself is being constructed as part of a
work-study construction course in the community of São Lourenço (Figure 1). Trainees receive a
scholarship of US$ 80 to participate and learn a trade. The CVT will be inaugurated in April 2009.

Figure 1. The two buildings of the Technological Vocational

Center (CVT) in the clam gathering community of São
Lourenço, County of Goiana, State of Pernambuco, Brazil, will
be inaugurated in April 2009. The architectural style remounts
to 17th century Pernambuco constructions and was chosen
because of the proximity to the Saint Laurence’s Church 200 m
away. The construction elements, i.e., arches, columns, doors
and windows are of molded lightweight concrete and imitate
the aesthetics of the historical period retro-chosen. The
building in front has two 6m x 12 m classrooms.
Administration is on mezzanine top floor. The building behind
will house the solar mirror on its rooftop, solar kitchen food
processing on the first floor and ceramic shop on the ground
floor. In between the two buildings a 1 m3 of usable volume
gas/biomass kiln is planned to be in operation by July 2009.


In Northeast Brazil there is a wattle and daub tradition used for housing that remounts to the native
Indian traditions before the Portuguese colonization. Current examples, still largely utilized for self
building of homes in rural areas, are a mix of Indian and African knowledge and traditions brought
together by the Brazilian mix of these cultures. The cost of manufactured common construction
material as fired clay bricks; cement and coarse sand along with their transport to São Lourenço
put these materials out of the buying power of the majority of the local households. On the other
hand, by digging a couple of meters right at a building site in São Lourenço, one finds a soil rich in
clay that has 20-40% fine sand content. Poor houses in São Lourenço have been built for centuries
using clay/mangrove wood wattle and daub methods, without much refinement or finishes.

Figure 2.a Local wattle and daub house. Figure 2.b Bedroom/kitchen separation wall
Tropical rains account for the appearance. inside the house without any wall finish.
AdobeUSA 2009, May 15-16
Adobe Association of the Southwest and NNMC, El Rito, NM

The pressure on the native mangrove forest, along the riverside, as a wattle and daub wall-building
component is enormous. Environmental Brazilian laws prohibit any use of these woods as
firewood or construction material. But enforcement of these laws does not exist; as culture and
tradition are not balanced by education and political accountability and will are scarce. The
alternative is serious community involvement with foreseeable living and economical prosperity.

As part of AERPA’ housing and decentralized water and sewage initiative, for the Marisqueiras
community in São Lourenço, we have started experimentations with alternative Adobe bricks that
were made with common shredded supermarket plastic bags (SSPB) (none biodegradable
polyethylene, various grades and types) as substitution for the regular straw in the Adobe. Also, 3-
meter long braids made of SSPB are proposed as reinforcement elements for foundations and walls,
to be placed as restraining-element every 4 to 8 brick high brick course. These plastic braids are
applied as replacement for reinforcing steel bar (rebar.) Also, the discarded plastic bags are then
put to a decent use, instead of ending up as one of the most present elements in landfills.

The social technologies at which we arrived are very simple.

1) For the Adobe bricks, straw is simply replaced by shredded or scissors cut SSPB of about 10 cm
(about 4”) long or longer. As with straw, precision is not paramount here. Needless to state that one
gains in the durability of the Adobe brick, as the plastic of the SSPB has a much longer life in the
environment as does natural decaying straw cellulose. Here, we are using the long decay time of
plastic to our advantage once plastic is included in the mixture of the Adobe brick. A couple of
handfuls of cut SSPB is mixed with clay and wet to a dough consistency. The mix is put into molds
and the resulting bricks are left to dry in the sun or covered area. As with ceramics, shade drying
develops less micro fissures in the building element, here the Adobe brick. The contracting clay
brick encounters a plastic fiber that hinders fissure development. São Lourenço’ clay soil has also
been corrected with coarse sand to achieve a clay to sand proportion of 30% to 70%. To the
mixture it was then added 5% Portland cement, as studied by the Earth Institute of Auroville (1).
The damp mixture has been pressed by a hand press developed at AERPA’ laboratory in Olinda,
Brazil. Although the bricks produced look strong, our research is currently characterizing the
material and bricks according to the civil construction norms and codes of Brazil and will be
shown once concluded. The cement stabilized sand corrected earth bricks, however, are much
stronger to initial pressure, drop and water tests, as are the Adobe bricks. Also, the cost of Portland
cement makes the construction more expensive and if use of cement could technically be avoided
this should be done, both for simplicity of the process and final cost of the construction. Currently,
we are experimenting with an exterior SSPB Adobe brick wall that has been finished with a mortar
of soil, lime and cement to improve water resistance.

2) Braids are made of interwoven strands of cut in half supermarket plastic bags. Once cut in half,
the plastic is tied together to make a 3-meter long line. Three of these lines are interwoven tightly
as a braid. Once 3 braids are done, once again they are braided. The final braid is about 1” in
thickness and has 9 lines of knotted ½ plastics bags. The braids are then shrunk in the open fire of a
wood stove (in our case a “ Rocket type Stove” with very small wood consumption) or a quantity is
put to heat and shrink inside a solar box cooker for a couple of hours. Our single glass pane 2 cubic
feet solar oven reaches 138 ºC (280 F). The plastic braid reduces in thickness and gains in rigidity
with the thermal treatment. Once heat-treated this plastic braid-rebar is ready to be used as
foundation or wall reinforcement element. By being water insoluble, the heat-treated plastic braid-
rebar brings this property of plastic to our advantage. The incorporation of this plastic rope
horizontally within the wall, in between brick courses, strengthens the entire wall structure. It will
be much harder for wall cracks to appear once they are several times tied up with the heat-treated
plastic braids. The following sequences of pictures show what has been outlined here.
AdobeUSA 2009, May 15-16
Adobe Association of the Southwest and NNMC, El Rito, NM

2.1 The Shredded Supermarket Plastic Bag Adobe Bricks

Figure 2.1.a Dry soil and Figure 2.1.b Water is added to Figure 2.1.c The clay dough is
SSPB are measured. the mixture. put in the wetted wood form.

Figure 2.1.d The second Figure 2.1.e The third Adobe Figure 2.1.f The Adobe bricks
Adobe brick is formed. brick is formed. are ready to leave the mold.

2.2 The Plastic Braid-rebar

Figure 2.2.a Bags cut in half Figure 2.2.b The start of the Figure 2.2.c Three lines are
are tied in a long 3-meter line. supermarket plastic bag braid. woven into one braid.

Figure 2.2.d The long single Figure 2.2.e Three braids are Figure 2.2.f Three braids are
braid. woven into a stronger braid. woven into a stronger braid.

Figure 2.2.g Fire heat-treating Figure 2.2.h Solar oven heat- Figure 2.2.i The aluminum
the plastic braid for rigidity. treatment of braids. reflector of the solar oven.
AdobeUSA 2009, May 15-16
Adobe Association of the Southwest and NNMC, El Rito, NM

2.3 Example of wall reinforced with plastic braided-rebar.

Figure 2.3.a Foundation being Figure 2.3.b The first Adobe Figure 2.3.c Detail of
reinforced with braided brick course being laid over the reinforced foundation using
supermarket plastic bags. braid-rebar. plastic braid-rebar.


The social technologies herein presented are simple and sustainable. They deal with the alternative
usage of plastic bag plastic in substitution to straw in Adobe bricks and plastic braided-rebar within
walls. These new found uses for discarded supermarket plastic bags could impact positively the
disposal of this type of waste plastic in the environment. The Marisqueiras project is currently
underway in the community of São Lourenço in the County of Goiana, Pernambuco, Brazil. With
the construction of the Technological Vocational Center (CVT) with expected conclusion in April
2009, regular classes on artistic and functional ceramics, solar kitchen cooking of seafood and
courses on Adobe and stabilized earth blocks construction techniques for sustainable housing and
decentralized water and sewage systems will start in the community. The City Hall of Goiana,
partner of AERPA in this project, has already set aside a city lot of 10 by 20 meters for the
construction of a popular house of 32 m2 as the demonstration unit. This unit will be used to test
the techniques presented here among others, as vaulted roofs with herbarium and vegetable rooftop
garden. The simplicity of construction and readily availability of the construction material in São
Lourenço, along with work training of both male and female masons points to the sustainability of
the project actions. It is expected that with the construction of the first demonstration unit the local
community will be willing to improve their own homes and join in the effort to construct
decentralized sewage systems.


The authors and AERPA would like to acknowledge two grants from the Ministry of Science of
Brazil, through it Secretarial Office for Social Inclusion, without which this project and its finding
and inventions would be much harder. Also, we praise the partnerships with the Project Imaginário
Pernambucano of the Federal University of Pernambuco, UFPE, and the City Hall of Goiana.


(1) The Auroville Earth Institute web site,, and visit to Auroville
by Dr. P. Santos-Filho, India, September 2008.