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building with bottles: an earth day update

April 22, 2011

A few months ago I posted about our attempts to build a dog house from used plastic bottles. Things have progressed a bit since then:

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the first house in Africa built entirely of used plastic bottles.

Background on Plastic Bottle Construction

Plastic bottle construction is the brainchild of Andreas Froese, a German architect and environmental entrepreneur .  Froese developed a method to utilize plastic (PET) bottles, a menace in many developing nations, as “bricks” in the construction of houses, latrines, and water tanks.  A tutorial on the method can be found here.  In 2001 Froese founded Eco-Technologia, a Honduras based environmental construction group.  Since its formation, Eco-Tech has partnered with government groups and NGOs in the construction of over 50 bottle projects across Latin America, India, and most recently, Africa.

Butakoola Village Association for Development

Shortly after we read about the Eco-Tech method and began experimenting with plastic bottle construction, we learned we were not alone in our efforts.  The first plastic bottle construction project in Africa was pioneered here in Uganda by an organization called Butakoola Village Association for Development (BUVAD).  BUVAD is located in Kayunga, a district north of Kampala.  In 2009, a BUVAD community survey revealed that many farmers in Kayunga were experiencing low crop yields due to poor  soil fertility.  A factor contributing to poor fertility was the presence of waste plastics, such as bottles and bags, in the soil.  BUVAD took a creative approach to this problem by addressing yet another: sanitation in schools.   They teamed up with Eco-Tech to bring bottle construction technology to Uganda in the form of a latrine block.  Students and community members at a local primary school collected and filled bottles found throughout the community and together they built a block of latrines for their school.  Constructed in April 2010, BUVAD’s latrine block was the first of its kind on the continent.

When we heard about the work of BUVAD, we invited them to Gulu to train us on bottle construction technology.  Facilitators and trainees spent a week discussing the practical and environmental benefits of plastic bottle construction and then put theory into action in the construction of a self-contained (bathroom included) guest house at St. Monica’s.

Benefits of  Bottle Construction

  • Waste management –  In areas where tap water is unsafe for drinking, bottled water is quite common, particularly at conferences parties, and gatherings.  A small house can use as many as 10,000 bottles, waste that would otherwise be deposited in a landfill or burned. Since beginning our project, any public event we attend turns into a collection campaign!
  • Environmental protection – Unlike “traditional” bricks, bottle bricks are not fired, a process which uses much firewood and contributes to deforestation.
  • Cost effective- Building with bottles is typically less expensive than building with bricks as the main construction material is trash.  In Gulu, many individuals earn money by salvaging used bottles and reselling them on street-corners for use in transporting honey, oil, and other products.  Purchasing bottles from such vendors is still significantly less expensive than purchasing bricks and essentially funds a grassroots recycling campaign in the absence of a government instituted waste management system.
  • Job creation – The construction process of building with bottles is work intensive.  This means many can be involved in the process, creating opportunities for employment and community involvement, from collecting to filling to building.  In our case, students from the area were invited to fill bottles in exchange for scholastic materials such as notebooks and pencils.  When BUVAD constructed their latrine block, collecting and filling bottles was a way students and parents could contribute to a project that would benefit their school.  While this method would potentially be costly in more industrialized nations, where labor is expensive and materials are cheap, in countries like Uganda, materials are expensive, labor is cheap, and jobs are in demand.
  • Shock resistant – The plastic coating of “bottle bricks” makes them more flexible than fired bricks.  Bottle construction has greater shock resistance and is well suited for earthquake prone areas.
  • Long lasting – It is estimated that it takes a plastic bottle approximately 300 years to decompose.

Over the past few months our house has been coming together, bottle by bottle.  Today the roof was raised, making it nearly complete and in fine timing as today is Earth Day.  Just a bit of plastering and painting and our house will be ready for use.  So friends, I give you reason # 995 to visit me in Uganda: you just might get to sleep in the very first plastic bottle house in Africa.  You could even make a pilgrimage of it and road-trip down to Kayunga to pee in the very first plastic bottle latrine in Africa.

Happy Earth Day!

Update:  The house is finished!  Take a look.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. Pop permalink
    April 23, 2011 5:35 am

    I am going to bed with tears of joy and a smile in my heart! Just ‘butiful’

  2. April 23, 2011 4:46 pm

    THIS. IS. AWESOME.

    I’m so excited to say that I was able to witness the first plastic bottle house while it was in construction! Seriously, it looks so great.

  3. April 25, 2011 3:22 am

    “this is insane … in a good way.” That’s one review from someone who found your post ahead of me. Congratulations, Liz and team! I’m guessing many a Peace Corps volunteer would be happy to go home knowing this is what she accomplished. And you’ve done it six months!

  4. Dan Nelson permalink
    April 25, 2011 6:14 pm

    That bottle house is way cool, Elizabeth. What a fantastic idea.

  5. April 26, 2011 3:59 pm

    this is absolutely the most glorious, amazing thing! I can’t believe it! Do you all have plans to continue with construction? Be the first entire community built of plastic-bottle houses?

    Miss you tons! Keep the updates coming 🙂

  6. nictionary permalink
    April 28, 2011 3:18 am

    I’m so impressed with what you’re doing, Liz!

  7. megan permalink
    April 28, 2011 4:08 am

    This is really great! I love seeing innovative ideas come to life. Knowing that there are people like you out there who care and who are really making a difference makes my heart happy. I look forward to seeing the first community of bottle homes! Well done.

  8. Kelsey permalink
    April 28, 2011 9:29 am

    I love this so much Eliza! We are so proud of you! It is amazing what a creative idea and hard work can do!

  9. June 1, 2011 8:44 am

    This one of the most amazing achievements in my life!! I can’t stop thinking about another advancement about this technology to be introduced in the rest of Uganda and Africa.

    Bravo Sister Rosemary and Elizabeth.

  10. Kalumire Kusim permalink
    June 5, 2011 8:00 am

    Congratulation guys,…I am a student from the faculty of the Built Environment and Architecture at Uganda Martyrs University. I am actually doing a research on plastic bottles masonry in part requirement for the degree of Bachelor of Environmental Design with Honours. I met i andrea Froese in 2008 and one of his complains was that there was no engineering professionals who were interseted in doing a research to investigate the structural behaviour of his technology .
    So I decided to it but as i was very limited in equipment, i choose to investigate the compressive strength of the masonry as well as of the plastic bottles filled with damp soil. I am almost finishing and I am very excited because I a have discovered a lot structural potentiality related to the its strength!

    • Rosemary Nyirumbe permalink
      November 26, 2011 8:07 pm

      Kalumira Kusim
      I am proud of you as my OB of UMU.
      I invite you to come up North to see the second house in Atiak near Sudan Boarder. All made built with Plastic water Bottles.
      I am all about it.
      Rosemary Nyirumbe

  11. January 11, 2013 7:49 am

    i liked this thank you Eliza, iam David Envirocareinitiative here in uganda.

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