Uganda: Plastic Bottle Houses - the New Tech

Kampala — It is difficult to think of a bottle as a brick. But a mud-filled bottle is stronger and more durable than a brick and whatever you can do with a brick; you can do with a bottle too.

The use of plastic bottles for construction does not only provide a solution to the bulk waste from mineral water and soda among other beverages, but provides shelter and conserves the environment.

Packing sand into plastic bottles is a technique that started nine years ago in India, South and Central America. Named "bottle brick" technology, the compacted sand inside the bottles is almost 20 times stronger than bricks.

According to Andrew Kibuuka the information officer of Joint Energy and Environment Project (JEEP), the best part about the structure is about being cost effective as one does not spend on building materials, the houses are estimated to cost 1/3 of a house made of concrete and bricks.

"The technology is cheaper as cement can be alternated by mud or clay and bottles which are the largest input can be sourced free of charge," he explained.

Construction

To have a perfect plastic bottle house, one needs to collect bottles preferably of the same size and height which are filled with soil with no provision for air spaces.

Kibuuka explains that once the bottles are not perfectly filled with soil and are not of relatively the same sizes, they can crumble down and produce an uneven structure.

"With all materials at hand including soil, construction can commence with guidance from a technical or trained personnel in the technology. The bottles are aligned by strings to keep them firm and still in shape," he explained.

The size and design of the house can be alternated according to the desire of the individual.Wondering about how the house can be kept cool during hot weather, Kibuuka refuted it posing that it is cooler than the normal brick houses since the bottles are well filled with soil and the perimeter wall is wider.

"One of the reasons behind filling the bottles with soil is to maintain the house in a cool manner throughout even in time of hot weather," he added.

The same technology has been applied before in Uganda under Butakoola Village Association for Development (BUVAD), located in Kayunga District approximately 74 km northeast of Kampala city. BUVAD built a toilet facility in the area and has worked on several other projects.

Kibuuka says the technology can also be used to construct water tanks in all areas.

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.

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.

Advantages of plastic bottle houses.

In areas most city centres and busy towns, the use of bottled water is very common since tap water is deemed unsafe for drinking.

"Bottles can be collected around 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. Any public event can turn into a collection campaign," Kibuuka explained.

Unlike "traditional" bricks, bottle bricks are not fired, a process which uses much firewood and contributes to deforestation which renders the technology environmentally friendly.

Building with bottles is typically less expensive than building with bricks as the main construction material is trash. In many areas, 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,' he added.

It should be remembered that 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.

It is estimated that it takes a plastic bottle approximately 300 years to decompose.

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