Tuesday 19 September 2017

Plastic bottles build a desert home

Lots of bottle: Plastics are a new building material
Lots of bottle: Plastics are a new building material

Joe Kennedy

Fifty years ago, an artistic fellow built a wall with empty beer bottles held in place with mortar at his cottage in the hills of south Co Dublin. The chimney breast was similarly enhanced (and may remain so), a memento from nights of singing, storytelling and music from that heady era of the 1960s.

These bottles were not of the conventional shape of Uncle Arthur's traditional brew but squat, tubby containers of a design-of-the-day which now perhaps may only be seen in the brewery's museum.

That bottled wall came to mind when I read about a young Algerian engineer who is building entire houses in a desert with used plastic bottles - items of waste which are engulfing the planet.

These bottles are filled with sand to form circular homes which will protect thousands of refugees from the harshness of the elements where temperatures can rise to above 50C, making it impossible for humans to venture outside for any length of time.

Tateh Lehib Braica, 27, works with a team in Tindouf in an area where there are around 90,000 refugees from Western Sahara.

His project began when, after college, he decided to build a home for his grandmother in one of the camps using sand-filled 1.5-litre plastic bottles instead of bricks. The bottle walls are assembled using cement with a mixture of earth and straw that acts as insulation.

The circular shape of the homes stops dunes from forming during sandstorms and, with white-painted exteriors, reduces the impact of solar rays by up to 90pc.

A double roof with ventilation space and two windows at different heights to encourage air-flow all help keep down temperatures. Each house needs about 6,000 bottles.

Tateh had been to Algiers University and the University of Las Palmas and his plastic bottle house idea was chosen by the UN refugee agency in Geneva as a pilot project. So far, more than 25 houses have been built in five Sahrawi refugee camps.

He is naturally proud of his achievement (especially, he says, of making his grandmother "very happy") and his ambition is to build a home for every family in the camps. (This story, in greater detail, was originally reported by Pablo M Costa in El Pais, the leading Spanish daily paper, and subsequently appeared in The Guardian).

Nearer home, Natalie Fee of Bristol, who has worked in media, has pointed out that one million plastic bottles of water are bought around the world every minute, an incredible statistic. Along with other enthusiasts, she has begun a campaign to collect empty bottles - starting along the banks of the Avon - in order to re-use them at local water fountains.

Her enterprise is called Refill and it began because of her compassion for birdlife and seeing a film about albatross chicks being choked on plastic scraps which have polluted the oceans. Businesses with taps are approached to 'sign up' and so far about 200 have done so.

The idea is spreading in the UK and someone in Dublin has expressed an interest. Plastic pollutes every natural system on the planet and only half of all empty bottles are recycled, very few of them for house-building.

Sunday Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life