Building hope out of recycled plastic

An innovative new technology using recycled plastic blocks is rebuilding schools and homes in earthquake-ravaged Indonesia – and at lightning speed.

By Kylie Hatfield

When earthquakes devastated villages across the island of Lombok, Indonesia, in 2018, the collapse of homes and school buildings displaced thousands of people and temporarily stopped the education of 4,000 students. The clean-up and restoration efforts have taken years. But an Australian-based charity has found a novel solution to rebuilding destroyed buildings quickly, while also recycling plastic waste along the way.

Classroom of Hope builds sustainable schools and homes that are safe and secure for communities in developing countries, to help students return to their education quicker. Founded in 2012 by husband-and-wife duo Duncan Ward and Nicola Courtin, Classroom of Hope has built 77 schools in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, and is now focused on rebuilding schools in Indonesia.

PICTURED: Construction of the first Block School in Taman Sari, Indonesia, gets underway.

“50,000 children have had to learn in temporary facilities since the 2018 Lombok earthquakes that destroyed over 400 schools,” said Duncan, who is also Classroom of Hope’s CEO.

“A child in a temporary school learns half as much as they would in a permanent school, with the loss of learning costing the Lombok economy up to $72 million per year in future productivity.”

When the small village of Taman Sari in Lombok was devastated by the earthquakes in 2018, Classroom of Hope joined the relief effort to help the village build temporary school buildings to get children back into their education while a longer-term solution was developed.

PICTURED: Doors and windows complete the second Block School in Sigar Penjalin, Indonesia.

That solution came in the form of the revolutionary Block Solutions system, which takes plastic waste and turns it into lightweight, interconnecting blocks that build earthquake-resistant buildings.

Finland-based company Block Solutions uses their recycled plastic block technology to build housing projects in Africa and has partnered with Classroom of Hope to bring their Block system to Indonesia.

“The 300m2, five-classroom school building took just six days to construct (a task that would normally take three to six months for a bricks and mortar build) and used 15 tonnes of plastic waste in the form of the blocks.”

In 2021, the world’s first Block School was built with concrete foundations, steel rods and U-profiles to reinforce the structure, and a galvanized steel roof, glass windows and wooden doors to complete the building.

The 300m2, five-classroom school building took just six days to construct (a task that would normally take three to six months for a bricks and mortar build) and used 15 tonnes of plastic waste in the form of the blocks. The building was completed in June, and students started learning in their new Block School towards the end of the year when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

PICTURED: Local contractors are trained in how to build with the innovative Block Solutions technology to ensure that when the Indonesian Block factory launches, they are prepared for Classroom of Hope’s major programs.

Classroom of Hope is also building houses using the same Block Solutions system. A home with two bedrooms, kitchen and toilet also takes six days to construct and removes one to three tonnes of plastic waste.

“We are building Block Homes for families who lost their homes in earthquakes and also low-income homes in high poverty areas,” said Duncan.

“The feedback has been very positive, and the locals have been happy with their new schools.”

The Indonesian Government has endorsed the continued construction of Block Schools and Block Homes, and there are also plans to build public toilets, libraries and administration buildings using the Block Solutions technology.

PICTURED: The Block Schools can be built in as little as six days, meaning students can get back to permanent school learning as soon as possible.

The blocks are currently being shipped to Indonesia from Finland, which adds to the cost and timeframe of each project. However, it’s hoped that the construction of a local factory to produce the blocks in Indonesia will remedy this.

In November last year, a Letter of Intent was signed between Classroom of Hope, Block Solutions, investors, the Government of Nusa Tenggara Barat and representatives from the Australian Consulate and Finnish Embassy, to signify a unified approach to building Asia’s first Block Solutions factory in Lombok.

“We have secured impact investment to build Asia Pacific’s first Block Solutions factory. We broke ground in February and hope to get the factory up and running by late 2022, producing blocks from locally sourced materials,” said Duncan.

Once the local factory is established, more schools and homes will be able to be built, with plastic waste being removed directly from the local area to create the blocks.

Currently, 6.8 million tonnes of plastic is generated every year across Indonesia. Almost half of this is burnt, polluting the air with toxic fumes, while significant amounts end up in oceans, harming marine life and polluting coastlines, or being dumped in landfills.

“We intend to build four schools and 10 homes per month using blocks, and the Block Schools program will build 200 schools serving 35,000 students over five-and-a-half years,” said Duncan.

“The 200 schools will remove about 3,000 tonnes of recycled plastic waste from the environment. The pipeline of 4,000 homes would serve 24,000 people over 10 years and remove 12,000 tonnes of recycled plastic waste.

“To date, we have built two Block Schools and two Block Homes. We are in the process of completing our third school and in Q1 (of this year) we plan to build another three more Block Schools with blocks from Finland to ensure sufficient building contractors are in place when the factory is finished.”

Classroom of Hope is currently seeking donors to fund the final phase of their capacity-building program, which involves funding and building Block Schools and Block Homes to train many local contractors.

“We need to ensure many contractors have the tools and knowledge on how to build with this innovative technology so that when the factory launches, we are prepared for our major programs,” said Duncan.

“Right now, on average a Block School is about US$60,000 and we are raising funds for eight more schools plus our local NGO partner program costs to ensure the final phase is completed with high quality outputs.”

To find out more about Classroom of Hope, visit or contact Duncan via 08 9467 9733 or