http://www.samarpanfoundation.org — May 2011
Do you remember the last time you bought a drink in a plastic bottle? Chances are that you threw away the bottle, without a second thought, when you were done. That’s what most of us do. Plastic is one of the most disposable materials in the modern world. It makes up much of the street side litter in urban and rural areas. It is rapidly filling up landfills as well as choking water bodies. Plastic bottles make up approximately 11% of the content of landfills, causing serious environmental consequences.
Samarpan Foundation has chosen to transform and repurpose this overlooked and environmentally harmful plastic bottle into one that is a useful resource. They have constructed a functional living space in New Delhi, using hundreds of used PET bottles instead of conventional bricks. Discarded PET (Polyethelene Terephthalate) bottles were collected, manually sorted by size, compactly filled with mud and sealed. Then these bottle bricks were cemented together to construct the floor, walls and roof of the dwelling. A mud filled bottle is as strong as a brick and has many other advantages. It forms a valuable alternate building material. Low cost and maintenance, along with its long life, make it excellent value for money. PET provides very good alcohol and oil barrier properties and generally good chemical resistance. The orienting process of PET serves to improve its gas and moisture barrier properties also. PET bottles are non biodegradable. Therefore any structure made with it can last a couple of hundred years or more. And then at the end of its life, the structure may be recycled and reused once more! Plastic has high tensile strength to weight ratio which makes it strong, durable and versatile. Samarpan Foundation has used this concept to reinforce walls of dams and wells in Goa. Bottle walls act as heat insulators.
The Indian armed forces at Siachen use mud filled jerry cans in large numbers to construct living units. The jerry can walls are covered with parachute fabric to provide effective insulation and warmth against the ruthless and freezing Karakorum winds. Mud filled PET bottles are non brittle and can therefore withstand heavy shock loads without fatigue or failure. In earthquake prone and flood affected areas plastic bricks structures with its high impact resistance can prevent large scale damage to properties and washing away of homes. Replacing conventional bricks with plastic bottles will help the environment in many ways. Waste creation will be greatly reduced as bottles become a resource and attract value. Improved sustainable management of plastic bottle waste will greatly reduce pollution of land and water bodies. It will help reduce carbon emissions during baking of bricks and also considerably lower the demand for conventional construction materials. As the volunteers of Samarpan Foundation discovered, these innovative bricks are easy to use and build. In rural areas this can lead to the creation of new jobs especially for women and youth. Recycling plastic bottles is a great idea. So next time you buy that drink in a plastic bottle, think twice before chucking the empty bottle. Your small contribution can definitely add up to make a big difference.