Ecobricks Turning Waste Into InfrastructureAs the population grows, environmentally-friendly building materials are becoming more and more necessary. Ecobricks are just that. Ecobricks are reusable building bricks that are made by packing clean, non-recyclables (including single-use plastics and styrofoam, which can be toxic to the environment) into a plastic bottle. The bottles are then used to build things such as furniture, walls and buildings. Ecobricks are a mechanism of turning waste into infrastructure.

Ideally, a long-term solution to protect the environment would require a massive decrease in global production and the use of single-use plastic. Ecobricks do not offer a solution to this problem; however, they are an efficient short-term solution for plastics that already exist or are currently in production. In addition to upcycling plastic, the process of making Ecobricks is far better for the environment than the brick and cinder block. This makes putting industries in developing countries a cheaper option for building material.

Ecobricks In Latin America

Communities around the world are turning to Ecobricks as an efficient and responsible option for building infrastructure affordably. Hug it Forward is an organization working in Latin America that focuses its attention on access to education and how modern consumer culture generates billions of tons of inorganic waste on a yearly basis.

The organization uses Ecobricks as a solution to both by constructing bottle classrooms with the materials. These classrooms provide safe and comfortable learning environments at a lower price than if they were to be strictly brick and mortar structures, and it is more environmentally-friendly. Hug it Forward believes that working with communities to implement these classrooms is an investment in the community’s resilience and self-empowerment.

Ecobricks in Africa

Ecobricks are building infrastructure in Africa. Greyton, a township in South Africa, is the country’s first transition initiative in an effort to address the issues many townships face as a result of apartheid and social inequalities. These issues include a lack of affordable housing and effective waste management systems. The goal of this transition initiative is to turn Greyton into an eco-village through projects like creating community gardens and banning plastic bags.

Ecobricks are a huge part of Greyton’s efforts and are being used to build schools, furniture and other necessities. At the same time, they reduce the number of non-recyclables that would make their way to nearby landfills. The township has even started a Trash to Treasure Festival, which is a music festival that increases environmental awareness. At this festival, people make, exchange and even submit Ecobricks to win prizes. After each festival, the Ecobricks are added to Greyton’s infrastructure projects, such as adding an Ecobrick classroom to the town.

Eco-Future

Ecobricks are building resources that are affordable and better for the environment. They provide attainable infrastructure for the communities that need it most. These bricks are an effective short-term solution to the abundant non-recyclables littering the planet. They are an avenue of development for communities around the world. Ecobricks are a sustainable solution that provides resources by turning waste into infrastructure.

Treya Parikh
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sustainable Solutions for Developing Countries
When discussing issues such as sustainability, one should keep in mind that everyone has a different experience. Throughout the world, all people count on various resources, environments and cultures, amongst other things, that make it impossible to find a one-size-fits-all solution.

In today’s world, it is essential to look at the common denominators when trying to find environmental solutions. Doing so provides a guide to finding solutions that are sustainable in diverse circumstances. This mindset becomes particularly relevant when referring to developing countries because solutions accessible to people in developed countries might not be an option for those in nations that are not. To find truly sustainable solutions, it is important to take into account the planet, as well as how these solutions would impact the people. This piece will discuss three sustainable solutions that developing countries have implemented and why these have been successful.

WeCyclers

WeCyclers is a for-profit company in Lagos, Nigeria. Lagos is on track to become the third-largest economy in Africa. However, 8.5 percent of the population is still poor and 20 percent is vulnerable to poverty. WeCyclers offers a recycling service using low-cost bikes. The organization allows homes to generate value from the waste they produce. WeCyclers began in 2012 when the city collected only 40 percent of its waste and recycled only 13 percent.

Recycling firms in Lagos face many supply constraints, so the WeCyclers solution is vital for both the environment and the people. When people live in conditions that do not involve a formal system of waste collection, they are at risk of diseases such as malaria and cholera. Trash can create water pools that are optimal conditions for disease vectors to breed. In addition to this, they are also at risk of property damage and psychological stress. Waste that places do not deal with forces residents to walk through obstructed roads and come across frequent trash fires.

WeCyclers built its platform on a fleet of cargo bikes called wecycles. Today, it also includes tricycles, vans and trucks and its collectors use them to pick up waste from people’s homes. As people give material, the service rewards them with points per kilogram of recycled waste. People can exchange these points for things such as food and household items.

Netafim

Netafim, the second of the sustainable solutions for developing countries, is a precision irrigation solution in Israel. It increases yields while saving water and cutting costs. The system consists of dripping precise amounts of water right at the root of the crops through a tank that uses gravity. Therefore, it minimizes not only water waste but electricity use as well. It is also commercially viable considering that it has a payback time of about a year.

The company is facing three challenges that are essential to the future of the planet. These include water scarcity and contamination, growing demand for food and the need for arable land. Netafim has spread across 110 countries and has 17 manufacturing plants worldwide. It has irrigated over 10 million hectares of land, as well as produced over 150 billion drippers.

Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha

Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha implements school boats in Bangladesh. This initiative grew from the recognized need to take action against worsening floods around the world. This particularly relates to the prediction that rising sea levels could displace over a million Bangladeshis by 2050.

One of the flooding consequences is children not being able to attend school for long periods. This challenge, in turn, makes it difficult for them to escape poverty, as they are not receiving a quality education. Therefore, by building these solar-powered school boats, the initiative secures learning even in flood-prone regions. Nigeria, Cambodia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Zambia have all replicated this model. The organization “teaches women and girls on new skills, sustainable agriculture, climate change adaptation and women’s rights.” A doctor and a farmer are also on board, which allows them to grow vegetables and raise fish and ducks.

Solutions such as WeCyclers, Netafim and Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha not only help the environment but people too. The common denominator that results in their success is seeing them as mutually exclusive: there is no sustainable way to help the environment without helping society as well.

Johanna Leo
Photo: Flickr

Plastic Waste Action and Poverty in IndiaWithin the last year, more information has come out about the consumption of plastics and their mismanagement. The information has spread awareness of the dangers of single-use plastics and encouraged using paper or reusable straws along with a number of other initiatives. Few, however, have been as transformative as one undertaken in India by the NGO Sarthak Samudayik Vikas Avan Jan Kalyan Sanstha (SSVAJKS). SSVAJKS has spearheaded a streamlined process of plastic waste collection and sell to recyclers. Though SSVAJKS may be the only organization connecting plastic waste action and poverty in India, others are joining the efforts to mitigate the problem.

Large Scale Support

At least 16.5 million tons of plastics are consumed annually, 43 percent of which are single-use, packaging material. Around 80 percent of these plastics are discarded. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Clean India Drive promises to address pollution in India. In March 2019, India banned imports of plastic waste. By September, it banned single-use and disposable plastic products. Headlined by Modi’s speech on August 15 calling for the elimination of such items by October 2, the Indian government aims to reduce disposable plastics to zero by 2022.

In alignment with this initiative, Amazon India and Walmart’s Flipkart announced actions to remove single-use plastics from their packaging. They will instead opt for entirely paper cushions and recycled plastic consumption by March 2021. In June 2018, PepsiCo India vowed to replace its plastic Lays and Kurkure bag with “100 percent compostable, plant-based” ones. This was countered by Coca-Cola’s goal to recycle one can or bottle for every one sold by 2030.

Sarthak Samudayik Vikas Avan Jan Kalyan Sanstha

While governments and corporations have addressed the future of plastic consumption, they neglect the areas where SSVAJKS helps the most. SSVAKLS is dealing with the existing plastic that has already been produced. SSVAKLS has the support of the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Program under the advisement and jurisdiction of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). These efforts have connected the campaigns against plastic overconsumption and mismanagement with SSVAJKS’ recycling initiative.

The NGO began linking plastic waste action and poverty in India in the city of Bhopal in 2008. It developed a sustainable integrated waste management system for the city’s five wards, a model that expanded to the state level in 2011. Replicated across India in all of its states, this model relies on ‘ragpickers’ to sift through the waste and pick out plastics returned to municipal collection centers. These collectors come from highly vulnerable, socially marginalized castes and are predominantly poor, illiterate women.

Since partaking in this initiative, the incomes of the ‘ragpickers’ have vastly improved, doubling in many cases. The plastic they collect and submit to the collection centers is recycled into roads and co-processing in cement kilns, benefitting upwards of two million people. The overwhelming success of the NGO led to another SGP grant that enlisted “2,000 unorganized waste pickers” across the Bhopal Municipal Corporation’s 70 wards.

The Endgame

SGP hopes to build a sustainable plastic waste management system and ensure the co-processing of plastic waste. It will also increase the standards of living for 2,000 ragpicker families. New initiatives are introducing vermicomposting along with paper bag and cotton making units. The results are phenomenal. Ragpickers have collected 4,200 megatons of plastic, saving plastic from burning and emitting 12,000 megatons of carbon. Additionally, the ragpickers themselves are able to open bank accounts to accumulate their savings, lifting them slowly but surely out of abject poverty. The success of the SSVAJKS in combining efforts to address plastic waste action and poverty in India demonstrates the NGO’s capacity to tackle multiple issues at once and incentivize the solving of one through the other.

Alex Myers
Photo: Flickr

Plastic BankThere are more microplastics in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy and the majority of this plastic waste comes from areas of extreme poverty, where recycling is simply not an option. Because a garbage truck’s worth of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute, David Katz and Shaun Frankson were compelled to create the organization known as Plastic Bank. During a TED talk, Katz explains that the solution to this problem is to “turn off the tap,” since ridding the oceans of plastic waste may be futile. Thus, the organization was launched with two goals in mind: stopping the flow of plastic waste into the ocean, while simultaneously alleviating global poverty.

What is the Plastic Bank?

The Vancouver-based Plastic Bank, launched in 2013, is predicated around the idea of turning plastic waste into digital currency in impoverished communities. This gives plastic too much value to be simply dumped into the ocean. The organization touts the mantra, “Plastic is a resource — not waste.”

At numerous locally-run Plastic Bank locations, individuals turn in plastic they have collected from within their communities. In Haiti, more than 40 recycling centers have been established and plastic collectors earn as high as $5 per day in a country where the average citizen lives on $2 a day, according to the World Bank. Since 2015, the first Plastic Bank center opened in Haiti has collected an amount of plastic equivalent to more than 100 million plastic bottles.

The plastic is weighed and assigned a value, which is then deposited into an online account that can be accessed via a smartphone application. According to Frankson, 50 percent of people in Haiti have a smartphone that can run the app and those who do not can use plastic to buy a phone. The app uses blockchain technology on IBM’s LinuxONE servers, meaning that all transactions are tracked and free of any danger involved in a cash-based system, such as robbery or forgery. At Plastic Bank stores, individuals can use their credits to buy necessities such as water, food, sustainable cooking fuel, high-efficiency stoves and even medical insurance, school tuition, solar-powered smartphone charging and Wi-Fi access.

Another innovation is the app’s banking features. Utilizing the same blockchain technology to create a secure “hyper ledger,” users can build credit over time and eventually earn low-interest loans. Before this feature, this was a very uncommon opportunity in countries like Haiti since many citizens do not qualify for bank accounts.

The Advent of Social Plastic

Once the plastic is collected at recycling centers, it is cleaned, crushed into pellets and sold as what the organization calls Social Plastic, or a form of plastic that is more socially responsible. Social Plastic is purchased by companies and multinational corporations such as German Henkel, Shell, IBM and Marks & Spencer and is used directly in the manufacturing of their goods. According to Katz, Social Plastic is a “globally recognized currency“ that “alleviates poverty and cleans the environment at the same time.”

The Future of Plastic Bank

Currently, Plastic Bank is expanding operations to over two dozen countries and developing the app further, including IBM visual recognition technology to help users identify the value of certain plastics, like a barcode scanner in a store. Plastic Bank expects to entice major corporations such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Colgate-Palmolive to join the initiative. Plastic Bank currently operates in the Philippines, Haiti and Indonesia and is projected to have 530 locations by the end of 2019.

Adam Bentz
Photo: Flickr

Eco Cooler is Changing Lives in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is one of the worlds most populated countries and is also a country stricken with poverty. As of 2018, 21.8 percent of all people in Bangladesh were living below the poverty line. Sixty percent of the inhabitants of Bangladesh live in huts made of tin that become extremely hot in the summer months and in rural areas without access to electricity. Inhabitants of these areas often find it challenging to stay cool in the sweltering summer heat. Luckily, Ashis Paul, a Bangladesh native, invented an efficient, cheap way for people to cool down their homes. His invention, the eco cooler, is changing lives in Bangladesh.

The Eco Cooler

The reason that the eco cooler is so cost-efficient is that it comprises of objects that are always around and easy to find. These objects are old soda bottles. People do not regularly practice recycling in Bangladesh so the number of old soda bottles on the street is high. To assemble the eco cooler, Ashis Paul cut the soda bottles in half and placed them on a board with holes in it. After he mounted the cut bottles onto the board, he placed the board over a window with the wide end of the soda bottles facing outside of the house.

The Way the Eco Cooler Works

The science behind the eco cooler is somewhat simple. The idea of creating the eco cooler came to Paul when he overhead his daughter’s physics teacher giving a lesson about how when a gas expands rapidly, it cools. The more scientific term for this phenomenon is the Joule-Thomson effect which has to do with the gas temperature dropping when it expands rapidly. When the air enters the house through the large end and passes through the small end of the soda bottle, the pressure drops and the cooling occurs, making the air on the inside of the house cooler than on the outside.

Paul claims that the eco cooler is changing lives in Bangladesh by reducing temperatures to up to five degrees celsius, but a scientific study that mimicked the design of the eco cooler claims that the device can only cool rooms up to two degrees celsius. Still, two degrees celsius is a noticeable difference.

Partnership with Grey Dhaka

Grey Dhaka is a communication company in Bangladesh that teamed up with Paul to spread the news about eco coolers, helping distribute them to civilians. Grey has also posted videos online detailing how to create these eco coolers. Since the birth of this invention, Grey Dhaka and Paul have installed eco coolers in 25,000 homes in Bangladesh and are helping many people fight the extreme heat of the summer months.

The eco cooler is changing lives in Bangladesh. It is a cheap solution for beating the heat and is accessible to everyone, even those living in poverty. Simply making an eco cooler also benefits the planet by providing an alternative use for plastic bottles that would otherwise be considered waste. The eco cooler is a green, sustainable alternative to regular air conditioning and it also helps fight the energy crisis, which has to do with using limited resources to create energy.

– Joslin Hughson
Photo: Flickr

Goonj
Goonj is a non-governmental organization working in various parts of India. It aims to share unused and unrequired materials from urban households with people living in rural areas to fulfill their needs. The organization believes that countries and economies can use urban discard to alleviate poverty and enhance the dignity of the poor.

The organization works across 23 states in India with 250 partner groups. It has offices with 150 full-time people and thousands of volunteers. The organization receives about 80-100 tonnes of material each month and turns it into material that people can productively use in the remote and impoverished areas of the country. In its latest annual report for 2017 to 2018, Goonj highlights that it has been able to reach over 3,600 villages in India and has dealt with more than 4,000 tonnes of material.

Various Initiatives

Goonj has performed various activities in different fields of work from 2017 to 2018. Some of its highlights include sanitation activities where it repurposed basic essentials like clothes and utility items into materials for women to use during menstruation. In addition to this, its initiative, Not just a Piece of Cloth, also aims to break the culture of shame and silence around menstruation. It turns these cloths into biodegradable clothes for women to use. When people from urban areas contribute their cotton bed sheets, curtains and shirts, the organization turns them into cloth pads for women in rural areas. It also holds gatherings for women to talk openly about the issue of menstruation, which many still consider a stigma in Indian society.

In the field of education, Goonj’s initiative School to School works towards using urban school material to address gaps in the rural education systems in India. Goonj was able to share 39,416 school kits to over 2,100 schools and 1,200 educational setups in villages. In addition, children in rural areas learn value for their belongings as they take up various educational and behavioral change activities which reward them these school kits. Not only does this initiative provide the poor with resources for education, but it also teaches them values.

Other areas of work that the organization focuses on are road repairs, disaster relief and health that it can perform with the excess raw materials it receives. Its initiative Cloth for Work works on rural developmental activities while Raahat provides disaster relief. Meanwhile, Green, an in-house brand, creates items from the last bits of materials it receives. These are also extremely successful ventures and have impacted a large population of the country.

Awards and Recognition

Goonj has received various awards for the work it does all over India. In 2012, NASA and the U.S. State Department chose it as a Game-Changing Innovation and in the same year, Forbes magazine listed Anshu Gupta, Goonj’s founder, as one of India’s most powerful rural entrepreneurs. In recognition of its important work, Goonj has received the Japanese Award for Most Innovative Development Project by the Global Development Fund and continues to impact the country to build sustainability and impact the rural population.

– Isha Akshita Mahajan
Photo: Flickr