In Costa Rica, you’ll be hard-pressed to find litter along roads or beaches due to the populations’ appreciation for the environment and the fact that tourism is the nation’s #1 industry. In the neighboring country of Panama, however, plastic bottles and discarded trash are easy to come by.
Robert Bezeau realized this shortly after moving to the Latin American country in 2009. Originally from Montreal, Canada, Bezeau was shocked to find lines of plastic bottles along roads and beaches. So, he worked with volunteers and for a year and a half collected more than a million bottles for recycling.
Once the plastic water bottles began to pile up, he began to wonder how they might be repurposed. The brainstorming resulted in Bezeau deciding to create what is now known as Plastic Bottle Village. The environmentally-minded activist developed a method to create houses from the bottles by making cages of wire mesh and steel rebar, then stuffing the plastic bottles in between.
“The idea is to change the world without changing the Earth,” Robert said.
In the documentary below, which was produced by Mel Films, filmmaker David Freid visits Panama to see one of the plastic water bottle houses for himself. It was learned that one house can contain about 20,000 bottles. To put that into perspective, that’s more bottles than the average millennial might use in 80 years!
The idea of using bottles to create affordable houses is very similar to what is being done in Nigeria. Because the plastic containers are cheap and are often tossed without thought, they are being used to create environmentally-friendly, earthquake-resistant homes. (Read more about that here)
Bezeau knows that collecting and repurposing the bottles doesn’t solve the issue of them being created and wastefully discarded, but he hopes that utilizing them for a productive purpose will cancel out at least some of the negative effects.
“It’s a crazy idea,” he says. ”I admit it’s a crazy idea. But what is crazy? What is right, what is wrong? It depends how you see things. I see things different.”
A surprising fact about the bottles being used as insulation is that they’re actually quite effective! Bezeau claims that a house made out of the bottles can be as much as 35 degrees F cooler than the Panama jungle when it’s stifling out. Fast Co Exist also reports that the bottle-and-frame construction is resistant to earthquakes. Additionally, the home could hypothetically serve as a life-saving device during a flood, as it would float.
It is Bezeau’s ambition to eventually build 120 plastic water bottle homes on 83 acres of land. To reach this goal, he is attempting to set up an exchange program that would reward local families with food for every bottle they collect. Once Plastic Bottle Village is complete, he intends to teach others how to create homes from discarded containers, as well.
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