Ocean and beaches, cities and countryside are awash in bits of plastic, lids and caps, bags, packaging and a whole lot more evidence of our use-it-and-lose-it ways. Although there have been efforts to create recyclable plastic, most of the plastic being churned out will hang around long after nothing is left of my generation but stories. That is not a pretty legacy for the grandchildren, let alone the seventh generation.
So it is encouraging to see clever people coming up with ways to make use of at least some of the billions of plastic bottles kicking around the planet. One that is catching on is for building material. Check out some of the places where it is being tried:
- Alfredo Santa Cruz started his recycling career when the 2001 crash of the Argentinian economy forced him to sift through rubbish heaps in search of something to sell. He built a playhouse for his kids, discovered they were sturdier when filled with water or sand, and went on to build a house. Now he teaches others to build houses and furniture with plastic bottles, as well as how to turn other kinds of trash into treasures.
- Nigeria’s first plastic-bottle house is in the village of Yelwa. The bottles are filled with sand so the walls are stronger than brick but much cheaper. They provide insulation from the intense heat and are even bullet proof. (Ouch – glad that isn’t an issue on my street.)
- Eco-Tec uses both plastic and glass bottles in the houses it designs and builds. Inspiration Green has lots of photographs of them, as well as bottle greenhouses, schools, office partitions, sheds, walls, and water tanks. They also offer tips on building with plastic bottles.
- Bottle houses, though still rare, have been around for a while. Photos of some intriguing examples can be found on a site that is fun for a lot of reasons, Roadside Architecture. Most of the bottle houses he features are in the U.S.
One of my personal favourites is Hug It Forward. In this case “hug” stands for Humanity Unconditionally Giving, a non-profit that “celebrates the idea of giving out of pure love, without expecting anything in return”. So far they have helped 14 Guatemala communities build bottle schools at a cost of $10,000 to $15,000 each. You can see the pride and sense of ownership on the faces of the children and adults who worked together to build the school in this video.