Hug it Forward, a nonprofit in Guatemala, has figured out how to build new schools on a shoestring budget by turning the plastic bottles that litter the countryside’s villages into raw construction materials.
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The dusty dirt roads surrounding Guatemala’s indigenous communities are lined with trash – candy bar wrappers, plastic chip bags, empty soda bottles, and snack packaging. There is no organized trash collection or recycling system, nor is there much education on the environmental and social consequences of excessive trash and waste. I saw all of this firsthand this summer as I watched indigenous women “clean” their communities by sweeping their trash into the street, explaining to me that once the cars or trucks drove past, the trash would be dispersed and would simply “disappear.”
The technology—developed by the Guatemalan nonprofit Pura Vida—is actually quite clever and allows for schools to be built for less than $10,000. The plastic bottles are stuffed with trash, tucked between supportive chicken wire, and coated in layers of concrete to form walls between the framing. The bottles make up the insulation, while more structurally sound materials like wood posts are used for the framing.
Visit the site for PRI’S audio program, Living on Earth, to listen to or download an interview of former Peace Corps Volunteer Laura Kutner about the bottle school project.