The world has an incredible plastic waste problem. Each year enough is thrown away to circle the earth 4 times, with some 10-20 million tons reaching the ocean where it harms sea life, kills birds and contributes to the famous plastic gyre.
At the same moment we face increasing poverty around the world. In Mexico nearly 10% of the population live in what the World Bank defines as extreme poverty – subsisting on an average daily consumption of $1.25 or less.
EcoDomum, a startup in Puebla, Mexico is combating these two seemingly dissimilar problems with one very smart method. They’re taking the country’s mass of plastic garbage and recycling it into building materials for affordable housing. With over 5 million tons of plastic consumed in Mexico each year, they have plenty to work with.
First EcoDomum starts by collecting used plastic waste of any kind, then sorting it into the type that will melt without releasing toxic fumes. Next they use a machine to chop that plastic up into small pieces. Then the plastic is put into an oven at 350 degrees C (660F) where it spends about half an hour melting. Once the mix is soft enough, it’s placed in a hydraulic press where it is flattened into panels approximately 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and 1 inch thick – about the size of a standard sheet of plywood.
These homes have a number of benefits. Plastic doesn’t decompose, which is a problem until you turn it into a house you want to last 100 years. Like a plastic bottle, the panels won’t leak water either.
Each of EcoDomum’s 430 square foot prototype houses uses 2 tons of plastic and with current government subsidies the total cost is just 5,000 pesos (or approximately $280 USD).
For another innovative project using plastic to build houses, see our write-up on the Nigerian village using plastic bottles as very tough bricks.