In the Philippines and Guatemala, local groups have taken the mantra “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle” to a whole new level. MyShelter Foundation and Hug It Forward use discarded plastic bottles as ‘eco-bricks’ to work with local communities to build “Bottle Schools” – providing an innovative response to the problems of plastic waste and the chronic lack of educational infrastructure.
MyShelter Foundation began with a pilot bottle school in San Pablo, Philippines in November 2010, an initiative launched in partnership with Pepsi. Volunteers and community members filled thousands of plastic bottles with liquefied adobe and left them to dry for 12 hours. Bottles were stacked like bricks, with cement and steel bars holding them in place to form the walls and foundation of the building, with small holes left for ventilation. These ‘eco-bricks’ are cheaper than hollow concrete blocks and up to three times stronger, providing a higher resistance to typhoon-strength winds.
In addition, the Bottle School Project in the Philippines could hold a potential solution to the country’s severe lack of schools. According to the Philippine Department of Education, there is a chronic shortage of classrooms to meet the needs of an expanding population of school-age children. Administrators estimate that there in an annual shortfall of more than 66,000 classrooms. Moreover, according to Illac Diaz, head of MyShelter Foundation, every town in the Philippines produces enough plastic bottle waste to be able to construct a classroom every two weeks.
A different approach has been taken by Hug It Forward - instead of the typical cinder-block walls used in Guatemala, plastic bottles filled with non-biodegradable trash are stacked in between layers of chicken wire. The ‘eco-bricks’ are used solely as insulation, and cement is layered over the bottles to create walls. The school building is supported by a professionally built, structurally sound frame, and independent structural analysis verified its strength and safety.
Hug It Forward has mobilized and empowered rural communities throughout Guatemala to build 15 bottle schools since October 2009, with an average cost of $5,000 per classroom, which is almost half the $8,000-$10,000 it costs to build a traditional classroom. Expenses are kept low thanks to children and community volunteers providing much of the labor, although it takes at least 3 months for the entire construction process to be completed if everything goes to plan. Additionally, Hug It Forward has recently begun replicating their success in El Salvador, where construction of a bottle school broke ground in January 2012 with plans of three more in the pipeline. Hug It Forward has even produced a Bottle School Manual, which provides a free, step-by-step guide for others to construct their own classrooms.
The Bottle Schools initiative represents a real opportunity to make a significant impact against the dual challenges of classroom shortages and plastic waste disposal in both countries - all in an affordable, scalable manner!