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Heineken WOBO: A Beer Bottle That Doubles as a Brick (inhabitat.com)
202 points by evo_9 on March 30, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 73 comments

A large fraction of the one time use glass at least in Europe is recycled into foam glass [0]. A wonderfully versatile and ecological insulation material with slowly but surely increasing popularity.

There's factories in at least Belgium, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Switzerland, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foam_glass

Anyone know why it isn't more popular outside of Europe? seems like a perfect use for recycled glass that is not suitable for glass bottles.

One of the biggest companies manufacturing foam glass is actually based in the USA and has many production sites in Europe.

The insulation properties depend on the chemical composition of the glass. With recycled glass, the chemical composition is not fully under control and therefore they limit the amount of recycled glass.

Production of cellular glass (also called foam glass) requires, even with recycled glass, a lot of energy. That makes it one of the most expensive inorganic insulation materials.

My guess would be that insulation wasn't taken that seriously until recently, and construction probably isn't the most fast-moving industry out there.

It also has some extreme insulation properties: it doesn't look like it really absorbs or lets through any moisture or air. There might be cases where that isn't ideal.

But living on the fourth floor of an old building with central heating in the basement does make me wish all the pipes were insulated with that material instead - it's absurd to have to wait many minutes for warm water to come out of the tap or shower because so much heat is lost along the way.

Even if it was insulated, you don't want warm water standing in pipes for a long time. This is usually solved by adding a pipe from the farthest point back to the boiler and circulation pump.

Which also has the nice property that the water in the pipes is always warm. You get a hot shower almost instantly.

Huh, hadn't considered that, but yeah, that would definitely be a health risk. Thank you!

You mention doubts about moisture or air permeability. It's a uniquely breathable material.

Oh, my apologies! I got the impression that the process of making them has the end-result of lots of closed off bubbles. But you're right, reading the wiki page again shows otherwise:

> Sound-absorbing Foamglas® insulation is more than 50% open cell bubbles, and heat-insulating Foamglas® is more than 75% closed-cell air bubbles, which can be adjusted according to the requirements of use through changes in production technical parameters.


Good question. I'd hazard guesses that there was a political dimension (the wikipedia article cites Soviet scientists developing the tech in 1930s) and that insulation wasn't taken seriously enough (heaters are cheaper to install and energy was cheap).

"Fibreglass" type insulation is commonly used in north america and is made in part with recycled glass.


Is this meant to replace rock wool in the walls or are the bricks used to replace the structural part of the building and used as load bearing building bricks?

There are several forms. Some of the most popular ones: - Blocks. From a technical perspective, these are perfectly usable as structural wall material in most use cases. Excellent insulation, breathable, moisture resistant. It is more expensive compared to traditional brick though. That's a big reason its use is usually confined to lower layers in touch with moisture. - Aggregate. Used as a structural, insulative anti-capillary layer below concrete slabs, wooden floors or wooden (!) foundations. Moisture barrier and insulation around some moisture sensitive houses also. Very popular in some areas as excellent breathable insulation for renovation of historical buildings. Used below roads in Scandinavia too to prevent frost heave. - Granulate. Mixed into concrete or plasters to improve their insulation qualities. - Custom shaped inert insulation for pipes, ...

Breathable? What the hell are you talking about? The vapor diffusion resistance of foam glass is pretty much infinite.

You're absolutely right about some of the foam glass materials. Not everything is solid closed cell blocks though...

So sad that this has to be a museum piece. The bottles could also double as water storage and a heating system. Or be plastic yet filled with sand or something.

Wonder how much more expensive these would be to manufacture. Making no waste is priceless though.

Many jurisdictions no longer recycle glass (considered too expensive), but will collect for upcycling. Could this be the right time for a renaissance of this type of design? It probably would require incentives from the government, which imo are merely manifesting preexisting externalities.

According to the European glass recycling organisation it uses 25% less energy to recycle glass than using sand as raw material (as I read their claim). [1]

[1] http://www.ferver.eu/en/node/31

There’s also an international sand shortage. It’s an ecological disaster.

Aabsolutely. I use glass bottles for water storage, and while they're a bit cumbersome to refill, I won't ever use plastic for this again. It's nice to know there's nothing leaching into my drinking water, plus carrying them around is good exercise.

I did this for my first few weeks in construction, need a gallon or more so I end up with a $1 gallon in plastic every day, and recycling earns money for the agency I work through. I will look into a glass gallon when I get a place with a sink. With 1L glass I’d recycle them about weekly and get a fresh bubbly water and keep the bottle for another week.

Imagine if there were a collapsible filter you could push through then neck, along with a hole drilled in the bottom.

You could get a few in series and have a hasty purification system.

So many ideas! Where’s the Mechanical Engineers at? Coca-Cola or Pepsi better see this.

I am no expert, but I can imagine they wouldn't be too much more expensive to produce; after all the mass production of glass (or plastic) bottles is a solved problem. In fact, square bottles might be cheaper because you can stuff more of them in a box, less wasted space.

From design point of view this is cool. However it is just a lame PR story. First glass is one of the rare materials that is nearly 100% recyclable it would be a shame to sore it as construction material. Second beer vendors way prefer aluminum which is way toxic for the environment but also remarkably recyclable. The best materials are those not produced furthermore those not littered. Why Heineken just don't fund garbage collector in such areas ? Why not an incentive when people return used bottles or others wastes ?

As is taught in schools, we first reduce, then reuse and only then recycle, in that order. Here we are already giving emphasis to reuse, but it is better than just recycling.

Had a teacher come up with Repair to add to those. You could see the pride on her face the day she brought it up, as if she’d unearthed the secret that would solve global waste.

I guess you could add Return to that list as well, although more likely to be applied to clothing than alcohol sales.

A lot of returned items are simply destroyed. Or in the best case resold. So instead of returning you could Resell them, but that's basically the same as Reuse.

>Why not an incentive when people return used bottles or others wastes ?

Some countries do that. Notably Finland and Sweden. When you buy a can of coke, or a glass bottle of beer, there is a small surcharge added to the price. When you return the empty container you receive your money back.

People discard cans/bottles in parks, at bus-stops, and people make a living collecting them and claiming the money back.


In Poland (perhaps all of the Soviet bloc?) it’s always been a thing. I remember collecting them as a kid, competing against local drunks. It was hard to find one back then. These days they’re too cheap for most people to care.

Also, Poland has a huge share of bottles that are not returnable, which is very different from Germany or the Nordics where all the bottles have deposit on them, even plastic ones.

(Whether you are able to return them is a different question, because the Danish system allows vendors to reject bottles that they aren't selling themselves, which is something Germany was quick to outlaw)

Also Norway. Typically close to 10 percent of the purchase price is a returnable deposit.

A few cans and bottles are discarded but the vast majority are returned because it is so easy to do; almost every supermarket has a machine that accepts the bottles and cans (including those not sold in that shop), crushes them, and prints a ticket that you can redeem at the checkout.

Elsewhere there were privately-run bottle-deposit schemes until relatively recently. One was active in Scotland until only 2015: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-33985022.

I spent years collecting and returning those glass bottles, and to this day maintain that Irn-Bru tastes better from a glass bottle than a plastic one!

I had no idea the program had stopped, but I guess it must have been around the time I left Scotland.

Glass is literally made out of sand and recycling it doesn't even save a lot of energy. It's heavy to transport and you have to clean it and melt it again. Recycling it doesn't make a lot of sense.

Reusing glass bottles might make more sense, since you save the melting step.

You say it doesn't save "a lot" of energy, but it still saves energy. And you can do both, you can reuse until the bottle is in too bad condition, and then recycle.

Also, http://www.ferver.eu/en/node/31 disagrees with you that it's not "a lot".

Thanks for that link. I adjust my position on the amount of energy it saves, but I'd like to see an analysis that also includes transportation and cleaning.

Is there a source that's not literally the lobbying group for glass recyclers?

WRT transport - if you are not recycling glass (or reusing, repurposing), you are in effect moving mountains to local landfills?

I think recycling glass makes much more sense than throwing it away.

It was the 1960s/70s...

Recycling takes a lot of energy. If you can reuse instead of recycle, it might be better.

A very popular reuse of an item in Germany is using the glass that a certain brand of mustard comes in as drinking glasses. It even says, or at least used to say, on the label that this is a popular thing. Most people I know have a few of them.

[0] https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=senf%20tommy%20glas

When I was a boy, we used to use empty mole jars the same way!


It never occurred to me back then that it was unusual …

There's a brand (French, I think) of Jam [0] that's widely available in stores here in America; I've found that their jars make fine rocks glasses once the jam is all used up.

[0] https://assets.bonappetit.com/photos/5981f6d764829819a9174b4...

The majority of my drinking glass is mason jars I have recycled from my Adams Peanut Butter purchases.

Mustard advertising in Sweden has made point of it as well[0]. An image search for "senapsglas" yields examples of glasses from different manufacturers of mustard[1] (although some hits seem to be for snapsglas which is something different).

[0] http://precisensan.com/antikforum/attachment.php?attachmenti...

[1] https://duckduckgo.com/?q=Senapsglas&t=h_&iar=images&iax=ima...

I grew up in the US and we kept jars from Kraft cheese spread. We used this size glass for orange juice or soda.

They're about the same size as mole jars.


Here in America, we use recycled glass jars to hold bent nails and rusty screws.

Yes, that too, or for storing wood glue for example.

We used to use old nutella jars from france that had lovely images of asterix and obelix on them as glasses. We had a full set back in the day, which was great!

Cucumber glasses make nice (big) drinking glasses as well. :)

You can even put a lid back on it if you fear it might spill (eq. on a cluttered desk).

There's the same thing in France too

Great concept ahead of its time. However, I'd advise people who live in houses made of WOBO against throwing stones.

I visited some friends in South America and they had just bought a property out in the countryside and were building a house. They had a shed for housing their dog food (they rescued street animals) and, to my surprise, the inside of the walls were built with stacked-up Jack Daniels bottles. They covered the outside with wood paneling so it looked like a normal shack from the outside. I have no idea where they got so many bottles (my friend had a whiskey habit but this would have been a lot of drinking), but apparently this is a common thing to do over there

Articles like these pop up every now and then and I can't help but think of my friend's dogfood shack.

(Oh, and the house was built by a proper construction crew, with wood beams and all, not bottles...)

A friend built a log cabin in Kentucky with different coloured glass bottles and jars interspersed in the chinking so that light comes through. Really neat effect.

Any chance you can share a photo? It would be really interesting to see the result on a "real" house.

I see some fine examples on duckduckgo search results, but they look too extravagant: https://duckduckgo.com/?t=ffab&q=house+made+of+glass+bottles...

It sounds like the bottles were serving as insulation, nothing structural.

Was there anything used as mortar between the bottles?

I think so, though I couldn't remember what it was

Mods, please add (2012) to the title. I remember when they published it at the time :)

Correct: 05/11/2012 under Architecture, Features, Green Building, Green Materials, Innovation

"Honey, I'm not a drunk - I'm just trying to build us a bigger house..."

The Twelfth Apostle Church in Berlin has some windows made out of gin bottles. After the second world war the church needed to replace some windows. The Gilka liquor factory nearby donated gin bottles.

Exterior Photo: https://media04.berliner-woche.de/article/2018/01/30/8/8798_...

Interior: https://media04.berliner-woche.de/article/2018/01/30/6/8786_...

Article (in German): https://www.berliner-woche.de/schoeneberg/c-kultur/alfred-ko...

There's an error in the title: It should read "A water bottle that..." ;). Hahaha!

Context: As a Belgian we like to make fun of Heineken not being a 'real' beer, because Belgian beers are way better. This is of course all relative because I know some Belgians picked Heineken as their favorite beer in blind tests (shame on them! ;)).

Cloudflare strikes again.

Access denied based on my IP address. Thanks!

Yup. Same for me. What is it with them?

Fill them, sand or sawdust or something, and fragility might be less of an issue? Even just for windows it's a lovely idea. I'd worry about the strength, people living in glass houses would worry about shards.

Not to mention the evergreen concern of having stones thrown at their houses.

As they say, "What once was old is new again."

Beer bottle houses weren't uncommon in the late 1800's and early 1900's in the mining towns of the American deserts. There wasn't enough water to make bricks, and wood was scarce and needed for other purposes.

But where there are men, there is beer. So beer bottles were used to build homes. I've seen at least four, including one preserved by the State of Nevada in a ghost town outside Beatty.

I remember in my school stairwell wall that faced the street was made out of glass bricks. 4 storey high building btw.

The Rhyolite ghost town near Death Valley National Park has a house entirely made of glass bottles. They’re round ones though!


Instead of a message, you can include blueprints in the bottle.

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