plastic bottles solve homelessnessOverconsumption of plastic, especially by Americans, is a recurring problem for the environment., a supplier of wholesale reusable and recycled eco-friendly promotional bags, reports that Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour. In addition, a 2010 report by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) states that plastic waste makes up roughly 80% of the world’s ocean pollution. With an overabundance of plastic bottles drifting both in water and on land, can recovered plastic bottles solve homelessness?

Plastic Bottles Solve Homelessness with Affordable and Durable Homes

Constructing homes using plastic bottles is not a new concept, but it’s gained traction in recent years in Africa, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe. The approach is solving two problems in one. By recovering plastic waste, particularly bottles, from areas where they contribute to pollution and compromise wildlife habitats, this concept helps the environment. Additionally, this project uses plastic bottles to solve homelessness by providing long-term shelter for individuals facing housing insecurity.

Nigeria provides an example of both benefits of this approach. The eco-based website Treehugger wrote, “In Nigeria, millions of plastic bottles are dumped into waterways and landfill[s] each year causing pollution, erosion, irrigation blockages, and health problems.” In addition, there are roughly 24.4 million homeless people in Nigeria. About 70% of people in the nation’s capital, Lagos, reside in informal and unstable housing. As many as 300,000 Lagosians struggle with housing insecurity and homelessness due to the government’s attempt to curb urban population growth. It’s estimated that Nigeria will need 16 million new homes to eliminate its housing crisis.

The Development Association for Renewable Energies (DARE), a Nigerian nonprofit organization, is stepping in to construct eco-friendly homes created from plastic bottles. The homes not only provide environmental protection and durability, but they are also fireproof, earthquake-proof and bulletproof.

The bottle wall technique was developed by German firm Ecotec Environmental Solutions (Ecotec Soluciones Ambientales). Other countries using this approach include Algeria, Honduras, Brazil and Argentina. Ecotec Environmental Solutions trains residents to collect water bottles before filling them with sand. They then stack the bottles side-by-side, layering them to create a wall. With each layer, mud or cement mix binds the bottles to create a solid structure that is 20 times stronger than a brick-based house. Each home requires about 14,000 plastic bottles.

Enough Plastic Bottles to Solve Global Homelessness

Plastic water bottles account for 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year, with about 80% of bottles being discarded like garbage and not recycled or upcycled. Scientists predict that if the world’s citizens continue to pollute the Earth with plastic at the current rate, eventually humans will be over-consumed by plastic. This calls for immediate action to make use of the material that is not biodegradable and cannot be composted. With about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating per every square mile in the world’s oceans, can plastic bottles provide permanent housing for the 1 billion people facing homelessness globally while helping lessen humanity’s plastic problem?

Environmental consultant and founder of Ecotec Environmental Solutions, Andres Froese, sees a future in plastic bottle homes for people in developing nations that aren’t addressing housing crises quickly enough. Froese has so far used 300,000 plastic bottles for 50 home construction projects throughout the world. If this work carries on, we may see a world where plastic bottles solve homelessness.

– Vicki Colbert
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