1,001 lives of plastic bottles

Summary

200 million plastic bottles are thrown out every day around the world. Three-quarters of these aren’t recycled. Despite the fact that it takes several hundred years for each bottle to decompose. Or that bottles can be a treasure trove of (sometimes unsuspected) resources. Let’s look at some examples.

13Sept.
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Although they have their own dedicated yellow bins, many of them are still sent off outside the beaten paths of recycling. This is the case of 4 out of every 10 bottles in France, according to ADEME. On a global scale, only one-fourth of all bottles are recycled, although 200 are thrown out every day. Each one takes almost 2 gallons of water to produce and 100 to 1,000 years to decompose. Such a waste. Particularly since those water, juice and soda bottles are chock-full of unsuspected resources.

From recycled bottles to well-insulated homes

Who would guess that this waste, which clutters up our garbage cans, could be reused as building materials? Inexpensive plastic bottles are perfectly suitable for use in the walls of a house. In Nigeria, the German company Ecotec Environmental Solutions has developed a procedure for building houses typical of the region – with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and a living room – using 14,000 plastic bottles. The bottles are filled with sand and laid one next to the other, then covered with mud or cement. The final structure is very solid, well-insulated, fire-resistant and even bulletproof. Another non-negligible advantage is that it costs one-quarter the price of a conventional house of the same size.

In Panama, a Canadian thought even bigger, embarking on the construction of a whole village made of plastic bottles. The technique is a little different from the one tested in Nigeria: the structure of the homes is a cage containing the bottles. All of this is then covered in concrete. Once finished, the houses have no need for air conditioning. As creator Robert Bezeau explains, “It’s 30°F cooler inside than outside.” Baptized “The Plastic Bottle Village,” the site should eventually include no fewer than 120 houses.

The insulating properties of plastic bottles can also be put to use in other forms. Like in Bangladesh, where a resident created an air conditioner that required no electricity to run. It’s a panel on which plastic bottles cut in half are attached. When installed on a wall, the system can decrease the temperature inside a home by 9°F. It works, because the neck of the bottle can compress warm air, causing the temperature to drop.

Cheaper, stronger roads

In India, an engineer from Bangalore has perfected a process for mixing asphalt and plastic waste – mainly bottles – to make new roads. The resulting surface is more solid and more impermeable, especially during monsoon season, and demands less upkeep than roads made solely out of asphalt. Not only is this technique less expensive, but it also gives a new lease on life to waste, a final point that is far from negligible in a country like India, where waste management leaves a lot to be desired. Since 2002, some 12,400 miles of roads have been laid, using 10,000 tons of plastic.

Dutch company VolkerWessels has also ventured into this niche, but with roads made only from a base of recycled plastic bottles. Their “plastic roads” come in interlocking pre-fabricated panels. Benefits: These roads can resist temperatures of -40 to -112°F and take three times longer to deteriorate that good old asphalt. The City of Rotterdam has already expressed an interest in a full-scale trial.

Watercraft

Another interesting property of empty bottles that we have all, at some point, observed is that they float on top of water. This finding inspired a lot of ideas in sailors around the globe. In 2010, the aptly-named catamaran Plastiki completed a crossing of the Pacific Ocean, from San Francisco to Sydney. All of which on hulls manufactured using 12,500 plastic bottles.

Other projects have also seen the light of day more recently, particularly in Asia. On the islands of Fiji, a New Zealander built a small vessel that he christened Bottles Up, made solely of plastic bottles – 6,000 in total. Owned by the Rain Tree Lodge, this original boat can carry up to three people at once.

Solar lights

What if a used bottle could turn into a light bulb? This idea was the brain-child of a Brazilian mechanic, who was always complaining about the frequent power cuts in his shop in Uberaba, in the South of the country. His system is a simple one: he pours a little water and bleach – to prevent bacteria and ensure the liquid remains transparent – into a plastic bottle that he then closes back up. Next, he makes a hole in the roof and slips the “light” in, making sure to insulate all around it, so that no rain can get in. During the daytime, the system reflects the sun’s rays, which lights up the inside like a 40-60-watt bulb. This inexpensive set-up can now be found in thousands of homes around the world.

Vegetable crispers, giant sculptures, modern lamps, fleece jackets, shoes, and more: there are still 1,001 ways to breathe new life into plastic bottles. Although the best, for both our trash cans and the planet, is still to reduce our use of them.

Picture from BoredPanda