Plastic bottles compactly filled with sand is reportedly 20 times stronger than bricks and concrete.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on July 15, 2022. It has since been updated.
Plastic is, without a doubt, one of the biggest banes of the environment. Plastic production has skyrocketed since the 1950s and it's nonbiodegradable, which means it simply doesn't decompose. The dumping of plastic has become one of the biggest environmental issues, but Nigeria is showing the world an amazing way to repurpose plastic for a better future. Nigerian companies are now using plastic bottles to build homes that can withstand powerful earthquakes and even bullets. The technology is called the "bottle trick." The first house to be built using recycled plastic bottles was in the village of Yelwa. The house has turned into a tourist attraction with even government officials and traditional leaders paying a visit to see the marvel. The eco-friendly home was built with nothing but plastic bottles, sand and mud, reported Power of Positivity.
A new house of plastic bottles filled with sand in the Sahrawi refugee camps in southwestern Algeria.#westernsahara pic.twitter.com/uTZJXqpwmO— Tateh lehbib breica (@Sandships) April 19, 2018
The bottles are filled with sand and the bottom of the bottle is kept facing outside, giving a unique look to the wall. They are used as "bricks" and laid on top of each other and held together by mud. While houses in most places around the world are traditionally built in a square shape, it's common for homes in Nigeria to be built in a circular fashion. The homes using the "bottle trick" method are also built circularly, keeping them in style with the other homes in the region. While the homes are beautifully designed, the idea is to preserve the environment by repurposing plastic. The homes being built usually come with a bedroom, living room, bathroom, toilet, and kitchen. Each structure is believed to require at least 7,800 plastic bottles. Companies have already built 25 structures using plastic bottles and they're expected to become very popular among the environmentally conscious. The companies said they first lay a concrete foundation, before building walls using plastic bottles and sand.
The innovative method has attracted interest abroad, with a Greek businessman and environmentalist donating a large sum of money for the project. While the “bottle brick” technology might have caught on in Nigeria, it was initially tried in India, South America, and Central America close to a decade ago. It is a cost-effective and eco-friendly option compared with traditional brick homes, which makes it accessible to many. According to Yahaya Ahmed of Nigeria’s Development Association for Renewable Energies, plastic bottle houses cost 67% less than a home built from concrete and brick. He also added that with sand compactly packed in plastic bottles, the homes have 20 times the strength of bricks. Ahmed says the company has already made plans to build a three-story home using plastic bottles and mud.
The homes are well suited to the hot Nigerian climate. The sand helps block the heat and keeps the homes cool. Plastic pollution in developing countries like Nigeria is a major issue, due to the lack of recycling centers and waste management. Plastic is dumped and this creates environmental issues. Companies are hoping the "brick technology" homes can help channel more of the plastic into such avenues and thus avoid plastic waste. Bottled water accounts for 20-25% of all water sales, which totals roughly 500 million liters of water per year, according to market research company Zenith International. These bottles are usually discarded creating a huge problem for the environment. Now, with such projects coming about, used bottles are in demand, ensuring less disposal of plastic in public spaces and bodies of water.
While many have praised the technology and its way of repurposing plastic, some argue that it could create an even bigger issue in the long term. Because sand forms a huge part of the building, the increased demand could lead to increased digging, creating scarcity and in turn leading to increased demand for sand. This could cause the prices of such homes to increase drastically and negate the cost-effective aspect of it. Many still have hope that the technology could create affordable structures, aiding progress. The Development Association for Renewable Energies is now planning on building a school to help educate people in the region and create more job opportunities.