food technology

Appropriate technology of the week? The Unicef brick

I’m not sure this is a product that will ever be manufactured and used, but it’s an interesting idea. Product design house Psychic Factory have developed a food and water container that doubles as a building material.

The container would be filled with water or food – perhaps rice – and shipped as disaster relief. Once the goods had been used, the containers could be filled with sand and then stacked together lego-style to make temporary shelters. It solves a housing problem and a food transportation problem, and turns empty containers into something useful, unlike the plastic bottles we throw away in their millions on a daily basis.

That’s the theory anyway. There are a few problems with the idea. As a storage container, these would be very expensive compared to a sack for rice or a barrel for water. You’d need an armfuls every week to feed a family, but you’d still be unlikely to ever gather together the several hundred you’d need to make a shelter.

And that wouldn’t be a cost effective shelter either. I’ve seen Engineers Without Borders students build geodesic dome shelters out of cheap plastic pipe and a tarp, with a fraction of the materials that this would use.

Unfortunately, the Unicef brick is probably just a design team having a bit of fun rather than a serious solution, but I like it, and it makes me wonder what other forms of packaging could have a second use incorporated into the design from the outset.



  1. I definitely agree with you comment that packaging should double as something useful, in disaster relief situations and otherwise! There is far too much packaging these days that goes into landfill or clutters up the pacific ocean, destroying habitats and using vast amounts of energy. This is not acceptable. I hate it.

    Here’s my suggestion of how to do it though: packaging should be made from natural fibres from renewable sources, and should be burnt to provide energy after their use as packaging. In practice, this means using paper or cloth bags, and having power plants that run on waste. I find it frustrating that so many so-called “eco” people are against waste-powered energy solutions, when that would help to solve two huge environmental problems at once!

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