A total of 30 businesses are commercially producing the blocks

Eco-friendly bricks in the form of concrete blocks are gaining popularity in Bangladesh as a means to mitigate the environmental damage caused by conventional brick manufacturing.

House Building Research Institute (HBRI), a component of the Ministry of Housing and Public Works, has been working for over 40 years to develop a substitute for conventional bricks in the construction industry.

HBRI senior research officer Md Akhter Hossain Sarker told the Dhaka Tribune that so far, a total of 30 businesses have begun commercially producing the blocks developed by the institute, 

“When we make people understand the harmful effects of the soil-burning bricks, they become interested in using concrete blocks,” Akhter said.

According to the Bangladesh Brick Manufacturing Owners Association, around 7,000 soil-burning brick kilns produce around 25 billion bricks every year, consuming over 1.27 billion cubic feet of topsoil.

“For a country like Bangladesh, whose economy depends heavily on agriculture, this is very bad,” Akhter said. “Every time topsoil is extracted from a certain piece of land, it goes barren for at least three years, which means nothing can be grown there during that period.”

None of the eco-friendly construction materials used by HBRI require the clay-rich topsoil. “These are made from soil dredged from the bottom of rivers, sand, cement, and iron netting,” Akhter said.

The institute has developed 25 types of bricks without using clay-rich topsoil from arable lands.

The name of some of the eco-friendly bricks are: Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks (CSEB), Interlocking CSEB, Concrete Hollow Block (CHB), Thermal Block (TB), Aerated Concrete, and Ferro-cement Sandwich Panel (ACFSP).

Akhter said that although such concrete blocks were first used in Bangladesh in 1980, the quantities produced were not enough for the micro-industry to become commercially viable.

“Nowadays, a range of national and international companies have been encouraged to produce environment-friendly bricks developed by us,” he said. 

Akhter said several companies have begun commercial production, including the CONCORD Group of companies – which manufactures pavement blocks and bricks for walls and roofs – and Mir Ceramics, which produces environment-friendly tiles for flooring, walls and stairways. 

In Dhaka and Chittagong alone, a property development company called Building Technology and Ideas Ltd has erected over 60 buildings using environmentally friendly materials and with the support of HBRI.

Initiatives to promote concrete blocks

In recent years, the government has taken several initiatives to promote the use of building blocks made from alternative materials, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina  even directing government agencies to build their own structures with alternative bricks.

As a part of this, HBRI has been training local masons and encouraging brick kiln owners in several districts around the country to use these alternative building materials.

“HBRI has been providing training to people who want to learn about environment-friendly technology,” Sarker said. “We have already trained 4,000 constructions workers and 1,000 civil engineers on the topic of concrete bricks”.

HBRI has recently undertaken a three-year project titled “Promoting Sustainable Building in Bangladesh” in association with Switch Asia – a banner program of the European Union – as part of which people and builders will be encouraged to use alternative bricks in construction work.

At a recent program held in Dhaka, urban planners and public officials said concrete blocks should be used as a substitute for bricks in construction to maintain environmental balance and to protect agricultural land.

Housing and Public Works Minister Mosharraf Hossain, who also has an eco-friendly brick factory in Mirsarai, told the event that now is the “right time” to stop using conventional bricks.

“Using concrete blocks instead of bricks is a great idea for sustainable development,” he said.

“The government should impose higher taxes on brick making factories and provide a ten-year tax holiday for concrete block factories.”

Existing brick-making laws indirectly discourage conventional brick making by banning the use of topsoil from agricultural land, which is defined as “any land which produces crops more than once a year”.

Challenges remain

HBRI researchers said the main challenges are raising the awareness of people about eco-friendly bricks, as relatively few people know that these can result in both lower construction costs and reduced environmental impact.

Prof Adil Md Khan, general secretary of the Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP), said that in order to make the eco-friendly bricks commercially viable, it is important to train construction workers and ensure that the quality of the blocks is maintained.