Plastic Roofs? — Non-Profit Partnership Creates Economically and Environmentally Sustainable Solution
In Ecuador, roofs are typically built with grasses, which fiercely leak, collapse when water-logged, and attract insects. The only other alternative is usually tin, which — in a country where the average temperature is 86 degrees — can make interior’s swelteringly hot.
That is, until Engineers Without Borders teamed up with Reuse Everything Institute, an eco non-profit, to make use of another abundant resource: plastic bottles.
According to a promotional video, about 7.86 trillion plastic bottles are used each year, which creates approximately 110 million tons of plastic. This discarded material can be reused as building supplies that can dramatically improve Ecuadorians’ quality of life, while also creating green jobs and reducing waste.
“The roof is high in quality, and we want to make it affordable to the consumer. It requires much less energy than recycling in that we are automating our process,” said Vananh Le, a co-founder of the Reuse Everything Institute.
“The machine that [fellow co-founder David Saiia] created was hand cranked, now we are automating it so that we make it more cost effective for people, generally, pretty much to run mom and pop businesses,” explained Le. “So, we actually don’t melt the plastic like recycling, we just cut it into continuous strips of ribbon and convert them into other products.”
First, they remove the top and bottom of the bottles, flatting their cylindrical shapes into sheets of plastic. These strips are then put together to create long, plastic ribbons that lay on the top of a house to make a plastic thatch roof.
“In [developing] countries, there are minimal programs to help reduce waste,” the video explains. “Wasted resources contribute to global poverty, and this affects us all.”
These higher-quality roofs are only the beginning. The partnership also has a poverty alleviation program in place that gives local entrepreneurs the technology and skills to run their own plastic roofing start-ups. Such a program takes the next the step in creating a solution that’s not only environmentally sustainable, but economically sustainable as well.