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Recycling Plastic Waste
When brainstorming solutions for global poverty, it’s important to consider how we can use existing resources more efficiently. The world wastes far more resources than it needs to, and one major source of waste is plastic. Several entrepreneurs today are recycling plastic waste into productive materials.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), out of 32 million tons of plastic waste produced in 2012, only 9 percent was actually recycled. Plastic is pound-for-pound more valuable than steel, and letting so much of it go to waste is a real shame.

Several ideas for utilizing plastic waste to combat poverty have been implemented. For example, the company Plastic Bank pays people to collect plastic waste in exchange for practical items like food and clothing. This strategy removes plastic from areas such as beaches where it poses an environmental threat while simultaneously giving impoverished people a chance to earn things they need.

Plastic is a versatile material that can be used for a myriad of purposes. EcoDomum is a Mexican startup that collects used plastic materials with which to build housing. It takes the company about a week to make a house from recycled plastic materials, and one 430-square-foot unit costs around 5000 pesos (around $280 U.S. dollars) to build. The short amount of time and low cost required to build these houses make them an efficient tool for improving the living conditions of impoverished people.

While companies can utilize recycled plastic waste for large-scale construction jobs like this, it’s also possible to use plastic for small-scale local operations. A group of older women in Tennessee have made it their mission to make beds for the homeless out of discarded plastic bags. The women receive donated bags, cut them into strips and tie those strips into a sort of plastic yarn, which they then use to crochet sleeping mats.

Recycling plastic waste into productive materials positively impacts the environment as well as the world’s poor. It’s an enterprise that can be undertaken anywhere at both community and global levels.

Edmond Kim

Photo: Flickr

EcoDomumIn many developing countries, rapid industrialization and motorization contribute to high levels of environmental pollution. The physical toll of disposable product packaging and plastics is especially high for low-income nations, which frequently lack the government funds and resources to efficiently manage waste.

As a result, it’s often the world’s poor who suffer the worst consequences of global pollution. In fact, the World Bank estimates that 95 percent of people affected by pollution-related illnesses live in middle and low-income nations. It’s important to address the global burden of pollution, not only for health-related reasons but also because pollution management offers countless economic benefits. Living in extremely polluted conditions can make everyday activities such as cooking and getting to work unreasonably difficult. Cleaner living conditions bring fewer communicable diseases and better opportunities because they obviate the challenges of contaminated resources.

One Mexican start-up thinks environmentally sustainable housing is one way to improve the living conditions of the world’s poor. EcoDomum, or “EcoHome,” builds affordable housing in Mexico using building materials made from recycled plastics. Based in Peubla, the company collects, sorts and melts down non-toxic plastics into a liquid form. A hydraulic press then forms the melted plastic into hard panels sturdy enough to construct a house. Each house uses around two tons of plastics and contains two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. The whole process takes a week and the price of the finished product is a mere $273. For most Mexican families living below the poverty line on around $125 a month, an EcoDomum is an affordable investment.

EcoDomum has bigger plans than just building houses — they want to stimulate Mexico’s economy with sustainable industry. The company has already built 500 recycled homes and has recently partnered with local trash collectors to maintain a steady supply of materials. EcoHome also promises higher wages for plastic collectors, which incentivizes locals to participate in their project. After seeing such a huge success since their start in Mexico, EcoDomum plans to expand their work internationally within the next five years.

Jessica Levitan

Photo: Flickr