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houses made of plastic
When it comes to environmental preservation, plastic represents a huge global problem. The average American or European throws away 100 kilograms of plastic per year, as reported by the Worldwatch Institute in 2015. The plastic waste issue not only affects the environment but also increases poverty. Fortunately, initiatives all around the world are trying to fight plastic pollution by promoting recycling while also reducing poverty by building houses made of plastic.

Conceptos Plasticos

This Bogota-based company produces low-cost houses made of plastic; each one averages around 430 square feet. Since 2010, Conceptos Plasticos has been building temporary and permanent homes, shelters, classrooms, community rooms and other buildings in Colombia.

Founded by Colombian architect Oscar Mendez, the company transforms the recycled plastic into Lego-like bricks that are easy to assemble and contain additives that make them resistant to fire and earthquakes. Its clients are the government, non-governmental organizations, foundations and private companies, who pay for housing solutions in the communities where the houses are built. Each house costs the equivalent of $130 per square meter.

Conceptos Plasticos provides the materials to be used by the communities and gives people training on how to build the houses. A home for a single family is built by four people with no experience in construction and takes only five days to be built. In 2015, the Colombian startup helped build a shelter for 42 families displaced by the violence in Guapi, Cauca, recycling a total of 120 tons of plastic.

EcoDom’s Innovative Houses Made of Plastic

In Mexico, every year 800,000 tons of plastic waste is produced and only 15 percent is recycled. To minimize this problem, Carlos Daniel Gonzalez founded the Mexican startup EcoDom, which means “Eco House”. The company recycles everything from soda bottles to toys and turns it into material to build houses made of plastic. It works with local trash collectors in Puebla to achieve its goals of reducing plastic waste as well as improving Mexico’s economy through affordable housing.

EcoDom turns plastic, as well as cardboard, into four different products to structure a house: thermal wall, concrete roofing, thermal roofing and structural beams. Weekly, the company recycles 15,000 kg of solid waste and turns it into 1,200 prefabricated walls, flooring and structural roofing.

EcoDom is helping reduce the number of Mexican people living in poverty, which currently stands at 63 million. So far, the startup has built more than 500 houses out of recycled plastic at a cost of less than $300 each.

Fundación Eco-Inclusion

The Eco-Inclusion Foundation is an Argentinian network of NGOs that manufactures ecological bricks made of plastic. Founded in 2014 by entrepreneurs Leandro Miguez, Leandro Lima, and Fabio Saieg, the organization works to reduce plastic waste and have a social impact by building houses out of the recycled plastic.

Eco-Inclusion has 45 plastic collecting spots in four cities. They turn every 20 plastic bottles into one brick and can produce 20 bricks in one hour. The plastic bricks have the same characteristics as a regular brick. They are also light, insulating and are made with a production process that does not damage the environment.

The bricks, built in partnership with Ceve-Conicet, are used to build community spaces that help the most impoverished people of Argentina. Right now, with the help of volunteers, the trio of entrepreneurs is building a dining hall and bathroom for an Argentinian soccer club, attended by hundreds of children.

If more people support these projects, two huge global issues can be minimized: plastic waste and poverty. It is a way of both helping the environment and improving people’s living conditions.

– Júlia Ledur

Photo: Flickr

mobile apps in developing countries
In the last 10 years alone, the number of mobile phone users has grown to four billion, with 37 percent of that growth occurring in developing economies. With internet availability expected to reach even the least developed nations in the next couple of years, a rapidly growing market for mobile apps in developing countries will likely expand even more.

Why is This the Trend?

In areas of Asia and Africa, one can buy a smartphone for the equivalent of $30. Simply put, mobile technology is the most convenient and cheapest technology option available for developing countries.

This convenience is one reason why the biggest market growth is seen in three main regions:

  1. Latin America, where smartphone adoption has seen double-digit growth and mobile banking gives financial access to those who might not ordinarily have it.
  2. South Asia, where in places like Vietnam, the number of Internet users has grown from four million to 45 million in just the last 10 years.
  3. The Middle East and North Africa, where, in Egypt alone, downloads of tool and messaging apps rose 60 percent in a year.

What Are the Uses for Mobile Apps in Developing Countries?

Whether it is to increase food production, access health information, launch a startup or improve education, a new reliance on mobile apps in developing countries transforms the way nations grow. While access to education is not a given in developing countries, the concept and means of education are shifting.

Four of the five top countries for educational app downloads are India, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. A large reason for this is that 50 percent of South Asians and 33 percent of Africans who finish school still cannot read, and 60 percent of six- to 14-year-olds in India cannot read at a second-grade level.

Mobile Apps are Facilitating Needed Change

For farmers who seek to increase food production, change is especially welcome. For practical purposes, apps like iCow allow livestock farmers in Kenya to track gestational periods for their animals, find veterinarians and monitor best practices. An app called Esoko disseminates information to farmers about market prices, weather forecasts and advisory services. Yet another popular app, WeFarm, offers a peer-to-peer platform for farmers to share information among themselves, with or without Internet access.

Beyond the fields and the classroom, popular mobile apps in developing countries range from banking apps like M-PESA, which allows for the transfer of funds over text message, to Voto Mobile, voice-based services in local languages. These programs have been rolled out in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and India.

In India, as with much of the developing world, access to good healthcare is also a concern. With over 60 million people in the country with type two diabetes and 36 million living with Hepatitis B, its people look to take advantage of the over 100,000 healthcare apps that already exist.

Never has technology been so accessible, yet never has the need for technology been so dire. With the myriad issues that arise because of extreme poverty, mobile technology gives rise to a new hope for developing nations.

– Daniel Staesser

Photo: Flickr

Fight Poverty By Improving Cooking in Africa
One of the goals in the 2015 Millennium Development Goals was to eradicate hunger and poverty. New technologies and programs are currently being developed to achieve this global challenge. One important focus of such innovations is to fight poverty by improving cooking.

A shortage of fuel and the use of biomass and kerosene for cooking both cause many health issues in Africa, such as physical ailments from collecting firewood, burns and respiratory problems due to the inhalation of deadly smoke fumes. In order to feed their families, African women in poor communities face life-threatening attacks and rape.

Furthermore, in some places where local firewood sources have been completely used up, women have to resort to digging up tree roots or travel increasingly further away from their homes in order to find firewood. The practice of cooking with wood fuel contributes to poverty in Africa by taking up time and resources families could be using to buy food and generate income. Fortunately, new technologies in Africa are making the process of cooking cleaner and more efficient.

One example is the fuel-efficient woodstove created by the global innovating charity, Practical Action. The woodstoves are easy to use, affordable and require less wood fuel. Their high sides allow for improved heat transfer. Best of all, they can be made with clay and bricks that are readily available in local communities. Practical Action has also trained more than 150 women to use its new stoves as well as to practice fuel saving methods, like using dry wood, pre-soaking beans prior to cooking, using a weighted lid and regulating the air supply to the fire.

Another initiative that is helping to fight poverty by improving cooking is the SCORE (Stove for Cooking, Refrigeration and Electricity) project. Also supported by Practical Action, the stove was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and created under the collaboration of the University of Nottingham, City University, the University of Manchester and Queen Mary and the University of London.

SCORE is a smokeless cooking stove with a generator powered by burning different kinds of biomass like wood and animal dung. It converts the generated heat to acoustical energy and then to electricity, allowing for even the waste heat to be utilized when cooking. The SCORE project aims to halve the household fuel consumption and to use local, low-cost materials as much as possible.

Other innovative efforts to fight poverty by improving cooking include introducing new construction materials, improving designs for basic cooking stoves and intermediate rocket stoves as well as enabling for more customization in design. Such efforts are led by multistakeholder initiatives such as EnDev and ProBEC, national cookstove programs as well as NGOs like GERES in Africa and Southeast Asia and HELPS in Central America.

However, reducing the combustion of solid cooking fuels, in general, is important to the health of the poor. Burning fuels like charcoal, wood and coal produce significant emissions of hazardous air pollutants (HAP) that have potential carcinogenic and other harmful effects. According to a recent World Health Organization study, HAP emissions contributed to 4.3 million premature deaths in 2012 and more than 110 million years lost due to ill-health disability or early death in 2010.

Forced draft and natural draft gasifier stoves are a promising technological solution. Their side-loaded design significantly decreases emissions without requiring the user to prepare or refill the fuel. While advanced biomass stoves are still at a very early stage for commercialization and field testing, they have the greatest potential to improve cooking health conditions.

BioLite’s patented Direct Conduction Thermoelectric System, the HomeStove, is a great example of this. Not only does it autonomously power an internal fan, but it also generates extra electricity to charge LED lights and mobile phones.

As for the renewable fuel sector, cookstoves are still in embryonic stages. They also typically remain expensive. One promising biogas digester model is that of SimGas Tanzania. It is small and custom designed for East African farmers to use by feeding in manure as its power source.

These improved cookstoves, from the cheaper ones produced by artisan collectives like GEREs and EnDev to the high-tech ones manufactured on the global mass scale, face several common challenges. The growing cost of materials and labor make it difficult for such producers to make cookstoves that the poor would be able to afford as well as to transport cookstoves where the poor would have access to them. This makes quality control and, in turn, safety additional issues. Lastly, they also lack access to capital markets.

While many improvements have been made to fight poverty by improving cooking in Africa, much still needs to be done in making improved cookstoves available to the poor.

– Connie Loo

Photo: Flickr

waterless bathWorldwide, nearly 2.3 billion people lack access to basic sanitation and water services. A waterless bath created by a South African student has the potential to help alleviate this issue.

Inadequate access to clean water leads to devastating disease outbreaks like trachoma, which can lead to permanent blindness. The invention, called DryBath, is a waterless alternative to bathing that comes in the form of a cream and could help eliminate the threat of these water-borne diseases. By gaining the ability to bathe, people in poverty-stricken areas can drastically decrease the number of trachoma cases, which currently blind about 1.8 million people globally.

The South African student and inventor of DryBath, Ludwick Marishane of Limpopo, South Africa, created the alternative after a friend’s comment regarding bathing. Marishane eventually realized the potential for the waterless bath in developing areas. In his Ted Talk, Marishane elaborated on DryBath’s potential capabilities.

“Anyway, we realized that we could save 80 million liters of water on average each time they skipped a bath, and also we would save two hours a day for kids who are in rural areas, two hours more for school, two hours more for homework, two hours more to just be a kid,” Marishane said.

The effects of eliminating the need for bathing water has a wide array of positive results as Marishane mentioned. Not only does it decrease the risk of disease, but by removing the long walk for water that many children must embark on each day, DryBath allows children to spend more time on their education.

According to Business Insider, after Marishane’s first few marketing experiments, he realized that to reach people in developing areas, the waterless bath must be sold in smaller packets that cost about 50 cents per pack.

“One of the things we learned was that poor communities don’t buy products in bulk. They buy products on-demand,” Marishane said during his Ted Talk. “A person in Alex doesn’t buy a box of cigarettes. They buy one cigarette each day, even though it’s more expensive.”

With limited internet access, Marishane used his Nokia cell phone to research and write a 40-page business plan for his invention. The young entrepreneur was able to successfully create a product that made real progress to health in developing nations. While his initial intention was not so, he realized the potential and worked to develop the waterless bath.

“After seeing that global impact, we narrowed it down to our key value proposition, which was cleanliness and convenience. DryBath is a rich man’s convenience and a poor man’s lifesaver,” Marishane said.

– Austin Stoltzfus

Photo: Flickr