Sophie Chapman, EcoBricks

Sophie Chapman, EcoBricks

Paving the way with recycled plastics

The amount of plastic that actually gets recycled worldwide is so low that it spurred Hong Kong-based entrepreneur Sophie Chapman to look for a solution. With this in mind, she co-founded EcoBricks, a startup producing construction-grade concrete bricks made with plastic waste.

In early 2022 a new walkway was unveiled on the Gold Coast Piazza in Hong Kong. Consisting of 15,000 mottled yellow and terracotta bricks, the promenade was clean, pleasant and seemingly unremarkable. Yet the composition was very different: these bricks were made with 5,400kg of local waste plastic. 

It was the debut project of EcoBricks, a startup founded by investment-bankers-turned-entrepreneurs Sophie Chapman and her husband Shervin Sharghy to utilise the overwhelming quantity of unrecycled plastic waste on the planet. About 460 million tons of plastic waste is produced annually according to the OECD, and there is now an estimated 30 million tons of plastic waste in seas and oceans. Chapman, who moved to Hong Kong five years ago, describes encountering this waste on diving and surfing trips, where plastic would be washed up on the shores of remote beaches and communities. 

A year on from the launch of the walkway the company has completed 16 projects and converted about 43 tons of plastic into bricks. The team remains lean; management consists of the two founders, two full-time factory managers, and a handful of other production workers. But this summer EcoBricks closed a new round of funding for its expansion in Hong Kong and Chapman says they are aiming to be fully operational with their large-scale commercial facility by the end of this year. 

The walkway of the Gold Coast Piazza in Hong Kong comprises of bricks made fromlocal waste plastic.

She was staggered to discover that even in developed countries with advanced technologies available, plastic recycling rates were just 10 per cent. “And from what we could find this was just down to the economics,” Chapman says. Manufacturers were not incentivised to buy recycled plastic, and the costs involved in sorting and separating different types of plastic for recycling meant the margins were so small that few bothered to do so – but she was determined to find a solution. After learning about a process where plastic and sand are mixed to make a basic construction block, she wondered: “What if we can mix plastic waste with concrete?”

It was not the first time this possibility had been explored. “Many people have tested putting plastic into concrete,” Chapman explains. “The universal outcome was that it makes it much, much weaker.” Plastic is hydrophobic and concrete is made with water: “The concrete literally doesn’t like the plastic.” Undeterred, the pair reached out to universities to connect with researchers and laboratories and begin a process of testing; not only to crack a formula that would meet stringent industry standards, but also one that could work with a blend of the different types of plastic found jumbled together in our waste.

It took years, but once they achieved the minimum grade, they took the proof of concept to Sino Group, a Hong Kong property developer, which incubated them through the Sino Inno Lab platform and helped to finance a pilot facility for further research and development. At first, outreach was an uphill struggle – a case of cold calling as many potential investors, partners and customers as possible – but once the support of Sino Group was secured they were able to leverage strong local networks and access research facilities and partners, and “it just flowed from there”. Since then, they’ve achieved grade A classification, “which means we are on par with the best conventional bricks on the market”, says Chapman. Starting with bricks that would be walked or driven on, rather than for overhead construction was psychologically easier for clients to get behind, but, as Chapman explains, the strength and durability requirements for bearing constant traffic is actually incredibly high.

Now EcoBricks is gearing up to provide bricks to developers and infrastructure projects throughout the region. “We ask our customers what they are paying for conventional concrete bricks and we offer to deliver for the same,” she says. Securing a factory that could enable them to scale up was a challenge. Chapman was adamant that production should be in Hong Kong, so that local waste could go straight back into construction, in order to support a circular economy. “Everyone was saying, ‘Just go across the border, it’s cheaper’,” she says. It took more than a year to find a suitable site, but she succeeded.

EcoBricks has the potential to make a serious dent in the mountain of plastic waste, while also being profitable. The second generation EcoBrick is comprised of 65 per cent waste materials. Much of this is obtained for free, as it is mixed plastic that existing recycling plants can’t process or for which there is no demand. “We are effectively a waste-management service,” says Chapman, “which enables us to reduce our raw material costs.” By keeping production close to source and cutting out the layers of transportation and management that exist in the conventional brick supply chain, EcoBricks can generate significant economic efficiencies and margins. “Hong Kong is our blueprint. Then we plan to expand in Asia. But there’s no reason why our model can’t go further. There is plastic waste and demand for concrete virtually everywhere.” 

"There is a plastic waste and demand for concrete virtually everywhere."

169kg of waste plastic was upcycled to build the base of a pizza oven in the Gold CoastYacht & Country Club, Hong Kong.

Sophie Chapman

Co-founder, EcoBricks

Graduates with a mathematics degree from the
University of Oxford, then begins working in structured finance for Morgan
Stanley in London


Transfers to Morgan Stanley’s Asia Pacific
headquarters in Hong Kong


Co-founds EcoBricks as Chief Operating and Financial
Officer with husband Shervin Sharghy


Unveils the first project by EcoBricks, a paved
walkway on the Gold Coast Piazza, Hong Kong


Included on the Forbes’ 30 under 30
Asia list 

Please confirm your profile
Please confirm your profile to continue
Confirm your selection
By clicking on “Continue”, you acknowledge that you will be redirected to the local website you selected for services available in your region. Please consult the legal notice for detailed local legal requirements applicable to your country. Or you may pursue your current visit by clicking on the “Cancel” button.

Welcome to Pictet

Looks like you are here: {{CountryName}}. Would you like to change your location?