Though the detrimental impact of plastic on the environment is well-known, consumption of drinks bottled in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) — the most commonly used polymer — continues to rise at alarming levels. According to experts, over 22,000 plastic bottles are discarded every second, and the numbers are only growing. While a fraction of them do get recycled, most end up in the ocean, where they disintegrate into smaller pieces and are often mistaken for food by innocent fish and birds.
Now, Robert Bezeau has come up with an idea that may not solve the world’s plastic woes, but will at least make a dent and hopefully inspire others — He plans to use the plastic soda bottles to build an entire village in the jungles of Bocas del Toro, Panama.
The Canadian entrepreneur, who has been living in the Central American country for many years, spearheaded Bocas Del Toro’s inaugural recycling project in 2012, after noticing plastic waste being carelessly tossed on the island’s beautiful beaches. During the year and a half it was in operation, Bezeau and his volunteers collected over a million plastic bottles!
While those recycling efforts have since ended, Bezeau was unable to ignore the magnitude of the waste being generated. So in 2015, he came up with the idea of using the bottles to construct homes, and Plastic Bottle Village was born. The project that is located in Isla Colón, the northernmost and main island in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, is still in its infancy. So far, only one two-story house has been built. But if Bezeau has his way, there will soon be an entire community residing in the 90 to 120 homes that he hopes will make up Plastic Bottle Village. The development will also include a vegetable and herb garden, a small boutique, and an eco-lodge.
If he can raise the funds, Bezeau also plans to build an education center complete with student dormitories so that others can learn how to use the plastic waste more productively. In keeping with the village’s location deep inside 83-acres of pristine jungle, everything will be as environmentally friendly as possible.
Innovative as the idea is, incorporating the plastic bottles into homes is surprisingly easy. The builders begin by constructing a steel frame that mimics the shape of the house and filling it with large PET bottles — the kind that usually contain soft drinks. Depending on the size, each home requires between 10,000 to 25,000 bottles. Once they are in place, necessary services like electric cables are installed. The bottle-filled frame is then plastered with layers of concrete after which come the windows, roof, and septic tank.
Interestingly, the environmental benefits of using the plastic bottles for construction go beyond reducing the amount of waste in our oceans. As it turns out, the bottles are good insulators and help keep the interior of the home at a comfortable temperature, alleviating the need for expensive, energy-draining air conditioners. This is a significant advantage in tropical countries like Panama, where the weather is warm year round. Even better? The homes, which will range in price from $149,000 to $300,000 USD, are also earthquake resistant, which is important given that Panama is susceptible to the seismic activity.
Though Bezeau is the first person to build an entire village using PET bottles, he is not the brainchild behind this innovative idea. Honduras-based Eco-Tec has been using the bottles to construct homes, schools, bus stops, and even furniture in developing nations since 2001.
But while these endeavors are a smart way to utilize the plastic waste, they are not the solution to our environmental woes. The only way to solve the issue is by becoming more conscious about our consumption habits. Though the smartest thing to do is avoid plastic bottles altogether, recycling them responsibly will also go a long way in curbing the amount of plastic that ends up in our oceans each year — So be sure to do your part!
Resources: Inhabitat.com, Gizmag.com, Plasticbottlevillage.com