WHILE approximately 3, 000 Thomasians sought shelter on campus when typhoon “Ondoy” made its brief but powerful visit in September 2009, P2 billion worth of infrastructure—including 27, 000 public classrooms—succumbed to the might of one of the worst storms in recent memory.

But a non-government organization picked up the pieces—quite literally, plastic bottles and other recyclable materials—and turned them into classrooms.

The MyShelter Foundation, which promotes eco-friendly construction, thought of using these “trash” as walling materials for classrooms that would be part of the project aptly called “bottle school.”

“[We wanted something built] by the people, for the people, something viral that did not depend on [materials from the] hardware store,” Illac Diaz, the group’s executive director, told the Varsitarian in an e-mail.

‘Bottle school’

Diaz, a social entrepreneur known for his ‘green’ architectural projects, got the idea of using recyclable materials as the main component in construction from Andreas Foese, executive director of Eco-Tec. The Honduras-based group promotes waste management programs through sustainable architectural designs. Foese particularly used plastic bottles stuffed with loose soil as an alternative to bricks.

To form a mud mixture, MyShelter experimented with different soil types, soil stabilizers, and even meat extractor, before turning their attention to grass roots.

This kind of material, which Diaz saw as “something the society can adapt and built with,” became the “focus” of their work that has been “successful so far.”

The “bottle school project” makes use of PET (or polyethylene terephthalate) materials—like soda bottles—for the walling, glass bottles for the façade, and other oft-discarded and organic materials.

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The material also involves mixing human hair with cement, which offers a 96-percent “no crack” rate. Glass bottles are stacked in tiers to form the façade and let in more light.

Diaz said heat is no problem in these so-called “bottle” classrooms since they are constructed with rows of short PVC pipes to take in more air.

MyShelter Foundation has begun building the first of eight classrooms that are slated to be completed by next month.

“There are new projects set to start within the next months in Quezon city, Batangas and Marinduque, and the technology spread looks very promising despite the hiccups suffered by the first cluster school,” Diaz added.

Strong at costs

Diaz said the materials used in the project are safe for and from the environment.

“Plastic bottles have an unlimited degradation span,” he said. “[Using] bottle bricks reduces the need for standard hollow blocks.”

He added that a building constructed with these materials can withstand strong forces like storms and earthquakes.

“A truck would have a hard time breaking through the wall because it’s almost ten inches thick of hardened adobe brick,” he said. “I’m sure that the 260-KpH wind that hit Isabela before will not affect the people who will use the school as a refuge.”

But unloading the environment of its excesses does not come cheap. Each classroom, according to Diaz, costs an estimated P315, 000. It includes a 45-meter-high ceiling and a 100 sq.m. study area. The financial burden is made lighter, however, by sponsors such as Pepsi Cola, which also encourages its employees to participate in the actual construction.

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UST’s bottles overflow

The project also caught the interest of the University’s National Service Training Program (NSTP), which has an arm called Civil Welfare Training Program (CWTS) that renders help to construction of classrooms and houses in partner communities.

NSTP facilitator Arvin Garcia told the Varsitarian that when his group first heard of the project, members wanted to learn more about it and carry out a similar project the year after.

“We were trying to look for the possibility to use the bottles in our classroom project,” he said. “We wanted to know if it’s costly or durable—if it can replace the traditional way of constructing classrooms.”

Garcia added that they are “definitely open” to the bottle school project.

“We want to be an advocate of innovation,” he said. “To do that, we need to venture into other ways of [construction].”

The program also plans to hold a plate contest for Architecture students next year, where participants will devise a model of a room made entirely of “renewable or recyclable” materials. Garcia hopes to use the winning design for the project his group is planning to undertake.

While still working its way through the eco-friendly project, the University’s NSTP pledged to donate more than 8, 000 PET bottles to MyShelter which are collected from the students.

“We are hitting two birds with one stone—we are helping [in the construction of] a school and, at the same time, [we are helping] the environment by recycling,” said Gracia, who serves as the NSTP liaison officer to the MyShelter Foundation.

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