Environmental activist and filmmaker Nicola Peel shares the story of eco-bricks — sturdy building materials made out of plastic bottles filled with non-recyclable waste.
Thanks to the ingenious idea of some Guatemalan villagers, the concept of building blocks made from plastic bottles filled with non-recyclable waste is spreading across the globe.
When it comes to waste disposal, the theme in the Western world is “out of sight, out of mind.” As soon as we throw away non-recyclable waste, the best thing that happens is it takes up space in a landfill. But thanks to a fascinatingly simple, yet revolutionary idea making its way around the world, we can breathe new life into old garbage.
As Nicola Peel reports in Resurgence (May/June 2012), the idea started in the small village of San Marcos la Laguna on the shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. Unlike most villages in countries that lack organized waste removal, Peel noticed this one was clean and garbage free. After some investigating, she discovered that the walls of the village were made out of plastic bottles filled with non-recyclable waste. The bottles were compressed and used to fill chicken wire frames that served as the skeleton of the wall. Then, the walls were rendered using adobe and painted. The end result was a remarkably sturdy structure and a clean village.
The group behind the idea called itself Pura Vida Atitlán, and Peel was inspired to spread its story across the world. An environmental activist and filmmaker, Peel often finds herself visiting poor countries where waste removal is a serious problem. Since her visit to Guatemala, she has taught others how to make “eco-bricks,” helping build four food sheds in Ecuador with the method, and also helping a village in Bali clean up its formerly pristine beach by producing 340 eco-bricks in 24 hours. “All this shows how we can close our own cycle and how instead of throwing waste away, we can easily turn it into something else,” said Peel. Read more about this idea and Peel’s other work at eyesofgaia.com.