Earthbag building is an innovative and sustainable building technique that addresses the ‘triple bottom line’, because it is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.
The Earthbag building system uses Earthbags – polypropylene bags filled with soil – that are then stacked one on top of the other to build stable walls.
By its essence, Earthbag building is low impact, low cost and creates jobs.
After trialling Earthbag building with huge success at The Mlambe School, one of our key aims is to replicate the technique across other sites in Malawi in order to obtain a perfect building model. We also aim to make the Malawian side of the charity a successful and profitable social enterprise in its own right, allowing our team of Earthbag Experts to be financially sustainable and rely on their building skills.
We recently had our first external building contract, which saw some of the team go to Lilongwe and use the Earthbag technique to build a school. You can read all about it here.
When using Earthbag building, the total cost of construction is reduced compared to traditional and conventional techniques. Earthbags can be filled with a variety of materials that can be obtained from the site itself, often available at no cost. This dramatically reduces costs of materials and transport costs to the site.
The Earthbag method is highly labour intensive. This means more of the funds are used on wages than on materials. This means a much higher percentage of the money used stays within the local economy. The Earthbag system can be mastered by unskilled people and communities in a very short amount of time, with minimal supervision. This means that local job creation is a major benefit, with projects often employing women as well as men. In communities where women often face the burden of work, this is a fantastic benefit!
One of Malawi’s major environmental concerns – deforestation (see World Bank Development Indicators) – is majorly reduced as trees do not need to be cut down in order to create burnt bricks. With Earthbag building, the use of resources is also highly reduced. The Earthbags themselves can easily be reused locally or emptied and used elsewhere and the materials are all recyclable.
What we have achieved
When we first visited The Mlambe School in 2012, there was just one school block and most lessons were taught outside under a tree.
The Mlambe School now has:
- 3 school blocks (each with two classrooms) and a 4th school block being built.
- 4 earthbag teachers’ houses
- 1 earthbag computer room
- 2 earthbag store room
- Pit latrines
- Compost toilets
Earthbag walls are thick, keeping the interior nice and cool, and with a little care they last for a long time!Charlie Bowles, Building Programme’s Director
The benefits of Earthbag construction are many. Its a highly sustainable method, as your main building resource is the very earth on which you’re building. This also keeps costs low, and as its a low-tech method needing little specialist kit, your main costs are your local workforce – keeping the money in the local economy.
Interlocking Earth Bricks (SSB’s)
Interlocking earth bricks are made of compact earth, sand, setting solution and clay, and unlike ordinary bricks do not need to be kiln fired, saving trees from being cut down for fire wood and reducing deforestation for building.
The bricks fit together, interlocking, and thus do not require cement, therefore reducing costs to build. The buildings made by SSB’s have an anticipated life of a hundred years.
We have just completed our first trial of building with SSB’s with a large scale school build, which has been a huge success. Here is a picture of the finished result, which has a more polished result than the earthbag buildings.