By Angela Casco

Taal Volcano, one of the world’s smallest volcanoes yet the deadliest in the Philippines, had Filipinos in Batangas and nearby provinces flee for safety from its eruption and the ashfall that followed it last week.

Soon enough, affected areas, including Metro Manila, were blanketed in gray ash, in thick or thin deposits, settling on just about anything in plain sight. Then came the post-ashfall cleanup, where cleaners were encouraged to collect ash, put it in a trash bag, and store as far away as possible from any contact with water.

DSC 0575 - If Life Gives You Ashes, Make Bricks: Biñan’s bayanihan produce bricks from ash

PAIN IN THE ASH NO MORE Dump trucks gathered ash that covered Biñan, which were then used to make bricks that will be donated to other LGUs and organizations that will be needing it

DSC 0564 - If Life Gives You Ashes, Make Bricks: Biñan’s bayanihan produce bricks from ash

While everyone stopped at that, the city of Biñan in Laguna didn’t and instead, displayed ingenuity and compassion, by producing bricks using the volcanic ash.

This wasn’t the initial intention, though, as ridding the city of the toxic ash was priority.

“I called for a simultaneous clean-up drive all over the city and that collected almost two dump trucks of ash on the first day,” Arman Dimaguila, city mayor of Biñan, tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle through the Biñan City Information Office. “These were then transferred to the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) along with other plastic wastes initially for proper waste management.”

Only upon seeing the amount of ash, though, did the local chief executive and MRF employees thought of creating bricks from volcanic ashes.

For two years, the city has been producing eco-bricks out of plastic waste, white sand, and cement, which they use for pathways in public schools. This time, using the same makeshift brick-making machine, MRF employees added volcanic ash—about 40 percent of the mix—in the production of bricks. On average, Biñan City’s MRF produces around 5,000 to 7,000 bricks per day.

DSC 0583 - If Life Gives You Ashes, Make Bricks: Biñan’s bayanihan produce bricks from ash

MAKE BRICKS The brick-making machine also produces eco-bricks made of plastic waste and white sand

The use of volcanic material in building and construction is not a new concept.

An Argentine woman in 2011 has turned the ash spewed by Chile’s Puyehue Volcano into bricks.

In 2016, Japanese construction firm Atelier Tekuto, in partnership with experts from the University of Tokyo, developed concrete made from volcanic ash and used it in constructing a house.

A research collaboration between scientists from Kuwait and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2018 have found that volcanic ash can be an alternative and natural additive in manufacturing cement. Not only does this lessen energy consumption in producing concrete, it also lowers the carbon footprint of any building development.

Architect Royal Pineda and designer Budji Layug of BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design, meanwhile, have used lahar from Mt. Pinatubo as concrete finish at New Clark City’s Aquatics Center and Athletics Stadium, which hosted a number of events during last year’s 30th South East Asian (SEA) Games.

Biñan’s initiative to create what Dimaguila called the “Taal bricks,” though, proved to be an exceptional example of turning an adversity into an opportunity.

“These will be donated to the victims of the Taal Volcano eruption, especially the residents in Batangas whose houses were directly affected by the disaster,” he said. “Biñan is willing to donate it to other LGUs and organizations that will be needing it.”

Since going viral online, Dimaguila said some private companies and individuals expressed interest in buying the bricks. The city mayor, however, said that even before the addition of volcanic ash, the bricks “were not for sale” and “it will not be,” an approach that stays faithful to the city’s guiding program and principle, “Bayanihan sa Biñan.”

“It’s inspired by our city’s battle cry, ‘Sa lungsod ng Biñan, mamamayan ay maaasahan,’” he says. “[We want to
show that] bayanihan is alive with or without disaster.”

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