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Philippines' Bottle School breaking new ground in sustainable construction

Mar 03, 2011

My Shelter Foundation, a non-profit in Philippines fighting climate change through eco- friendly, disaster-resistant structures, is building Asia’s first school made from recycled plastic and glass bottles. The Bottle School, made from eco-friendly cement, is seen by the construction industry as a great leap forward in tackling the country's environmental, economic and social challenges.



It takes roughly three to five centuries for the average plastic bottle to biodegrade. But some environmentalists have found new uses for it, turning it into durable material for building classrooms.

"What used to be a problem in the environment is now part of a solution," points out social entrepreneur Illac Diaz, who is spearheading a campaign to build Asia’s first school made out of recycled plastic and glass bottles.

Diaz heads the non-profit organisation My Shelter Foundation which aims to find innovative solutions to fight climate change through sustainable, eco- friendly, low-cost, disaster-resistant structures.

Over the years, My Shelter Foundation has embarked on several projects for sustainable construction including earthquake-proof earthen schools, bamboo schools, and shelters for peanut farmers made out of peanut shells.

Recycling plastic bottles into building material now counts as one of the Foundation’s "green practices", and has caught the attention of the architecture and construction industry in the Philippines.

Architect Zigfrido Abella said My Shelter Foundations’ Bottle Schools, as they are called, are breaking new ground in sustainable construction. "The Bottle School addresses a lot of issues we are currently facing - environmentally, economically, and socially."

The Foundation got inspiration for the Bottle School from Spanish-style adobe churches and buildings that incorporated glass bottles in Turkey and Mexico, which have all withstood the test of time.

"We liquefy adobe and place them inside the bottles which serve as molds or ‘building blocks’ for the school," Diaz told IPS inside one classroom in San Pablo, Laguna, two hours south of the Philippine capital Manila.

The process started with gathering as many as 1.5 to 2-litre plastic bottles, commonly soda bottles that Diaz says were chosen because these could be sourced from restaurants and hotels.

Then they fill the bottles with liquefied adobe and leave it to dry for 12 hours. Bottles are arranged like bricks, stacked neatly to form walls, with cement holding the bottles in place to make the wall sturdier. It takes roughly 5,000 bottles to complete one classroom.

In the finished classroom, builders insert small holes and PVC pipes in between the bottle brick walls that serve as air vents. This reduces the need for electric fans inside the classroom.

Large windows on two walls, rafters above the doorway, and panels surrounding a wide doorway made of translucent glass bottles maximize the use of natural light. Fibreboards made of bamboo fiber, cornhusk, and rice hull, which Diaz says are sourced locally, make up the back wall that separates two classrooms.

When turned into bricks, these bottles made from synthetic resin called polyethylene terephthalate or PET, are very stable, Diaz said. "After leaving plastic bottles filled with liquefied adobe to dry for 12 hours you can run them over with a six-wheeler truck," he adds.

Abella agrees that these PET bottles, which underwent testing by engineering students, were found to be "even stronger than conventional hollow blocks, very durable, flexible and easily adaptable into conventional construction methods.

"The property of the bottle, being uniform in dimensions, is somewhat very similar to the qualities of a building unit, like bricks. This quality makes it excellent material for construction," Abella tells IPS.

Abella explains that the structure minimizes the dependency on concrete by substituting it with lime, an environmentally-friendly material, to produce "pozzolannic cement, the same type of material used to build the Greek and Roman temples."

"This type of building can withstand rain and storms. It’s strong. When there are earthquakes, hollow blocks tend to crack, but this type of building won’t," Max Seminano, a construction worker on the site, tells IPS in the vernacular.

As for the materials used, Seminano adds that plastic bottles are readily available. "Instead of throwing out old bottles, at least we can put them to better use through these schools."

"Plastic bottles are everywhere," agrees Architect Abella. "Given the proper training, plastic bottle construction can definitely be replicated anywhere in the world. You can even float bottles to a deserted island and build something there."

Aside from the use of bottles and fibreboards, the cement binding the bottles together also makes use of sustainable materials.

Diaz explains that workers mix human hair and chicken feathers, which they source from barber shops and poultry farms in the area, as fibre filler to hold cement together, since cement mixed with fibre was found to have a 95 percent less cracking rate.

It took roughly a month to finish the first of eight planned classrooms, which they only began December last year. The concrete and steel structure bars for the remaining seven classrooms are already in place, while Diaz tries to gather another 35,000 remaining bottles he needs for construction, which various corporations and individual donors donate for free. My Shelter Foundation hopes to finish the school in time for the opening of classes in June

Source : IPS
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