REAL LIFE

Homes For The Poor And Much More: A Self-Taught Woman Makes Masterpieces Out Of Plastic Bottles

Date May 23, 2019

What do you do with your leftover plastic containers? Environmentally conscious people sort their garbage to be recycled, but in most countries around the world everything just gets tossed together in one big pile of garbage and doesn't decompose for decades. This waste could have been recycled, used to repair roads, or maybe even utilized to help those in need. But how? We will look at the story of self-taught architect Ingrid Vaca Diez as an example of this. 

Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, where roughly half of the population lives in abject poverty. Slums in the mountains are commonplace and it would seem as though the people are quite satisfied with the current situation. Ingrid Vaca Diez, once a diplomatic lawyer, decided to devote herself to solving the problem of Bolivia's housing crisis. 

It all started with a joke. One day Diez's husband noticed she had saved enough empty plastic bottles that she could build a house with them all. Ingrid ran with the idea. Since most Bolivian families are large and with many children, she didn't want to start small; she calculated that for an 1800 square-foot house she would need about 36 thousand bottles, and each bottle would need to be filled with sand to act as a brick. 

Such a task would be too daunting for a single woman to handle alone, so she got the local residents involved who were also interested in improving their living conditions. Ingrid began collecting donations for necessary materials, such as cement, wire mesh, and paint, and everything else was what they had on hand. 

Of course, modern amenities such as electricity and plumbing were out of the question, but for families who were living in huts, this was a huge breakthrough. 

Still a long way from running out of plastic, Diez started creating outdoor sculptures and turned wasted space into beautiful alleyways. 

Ingrid can't take all the credit for the plastic bottle house design; many others have also come up with this idea. The technology has been used in India, Latin America, and South America, where the standard of living isn't very high. Poor water quality in many countries increases the demand for bottled drinks and, therefore, provides ample building material. Used containers are often donated to local businesses and volunteers by hotels, restaurants, and embassies. 

The average family throws out several hundred plastic bottles a year. This isn't enough to build a house, of course, but perhaps the bottles could be used for something else: to build a sandbox or children's playhouse, stabilize a bench, enclose a flowerbed or even build an original fence. In any case, the technology is quite simple.

  1. Set a foundation, if necessary.
  2. Completely fill the bottles with sand and screw on the lids.
  3. Build support columns where needed.
  4. Row by row, place the bottles so the necks are pointing inward and fill any space with a mixture of sand and cement.
  5. When the 'wall' is ready, tie the bottle necks together with wire.
  6. Fill any remaining space with the sand and cement mixture.
  7. Add a roof and finishing touches if desired. 

Not all of us are willing to spend so much time collecting bottles and then making something out of them, but we can all be a little less lazy and at least take them to the recycling center, right? What do you think about that?