Upcycled plastic homes from Switzerland

Cement was last century’s solution to the chronic lack of housing for the growing global population. Compared to the more traditional methods that preceded it, building with cement is fast and relatively cheap, which may be why it remains the world’s most-used building material – more than 4 billion metric tonnes are still produced every year.

According to McKinsey & Company, that’s enough to fill 50 million Airbus a320 passenger planes. But cement production comes at a real cost beyond just eyesore brutalist architecture. It consumes vast amounts of mostly coal-fired energy, so much so that cement production is responsible for 11% of all global CO2 emissions.

But what if there was a better way? A solution that not only tackled one crisis, but three?

That’s exactly what entrepreneurs Igor Ustinov and André Hoffmann hope to do with an ingenious new construction system that simultaneously addresses the housing shortage, the world’s overreliance on high-emissions-producing cement, and overflowing landfills throughout the world due to another material that, like cement, has transformed from solution to problem.

How? By building houses of PET plastic.

The Ustinov Hoffmann Construction System (UHCS) is a modular system that uses plastic profiles made from upcycling PET bottles – 355 thousand PET bottles for a single compact 50m2 house, thus saving up to 230m3 of landfill space. In the UHCS-patented manufacturing process, PET plastic is used to create durable, fire-resistant material and extruded into shape, and the final construction modules meet stringent ISO (international) and SIA (Swiss) standards.

While other plastic types can also be upcycled to form UHCS building blocks, PET was favoured for its non-toxicity, its capacity to be endlessly recycled, and persistent ubiquity, particularly in areas of the world that have few to no recycling facilities. When demand for PET is expected to increase by 50% throughout the 2020s to 42 million tonnes in 2030, and only 10% of this is recycled globally, UHCS says they will “certainly not lack raw materials.”

The 5 UHCS modules – called “profiles” – are insulated with recycled PET foam, require no adhesives for production or assembly, and produce 95% less CO2 emissions per kilogram versus concrete. And they can be produced, shipped and assembled like Lego bricks in a range of highly customizable formats that could conceivably be adapted to homes, schools, and other buildings in local traditional architectural styles anywhere in the world.

First developed in Canton Valais, Switzerland the prize-winning UHCS system works on a licensing model that allows producers to licence the technology to build UHCS modular homes using local PET recycling, local production and local assembly to provide local jobs and housing.

Licensing is currently underway on four continents, as UHCS hopes to cement their place as this century’s solution to not just the housing crisis, but the environmental crisis, too.