How to build a bottle school


Bottle schools are built using tried and tested post and beam construction. The foundations, columns and beams are made from concrete reinforced with iron rebar. The difference with traditional construction is that instead of cinder-blocks, the walls are made using “eco-bricks”.

If you’re experienced in post and beam construction, it’s not difficult to build a bottle school: there are just a few small differences. The most important thing is to harness the power of community to collect and stuff the bottles to make “eco-bricks”, to follow the instructions in the Bottle School Manual, and to ask us if you have any questions! We are here to help you however we can.

Below you can see an overview of how a bottle school comes together.  If you haven’t already done so, watch our short video first.

Step 1: Collect bottles and trash

Children and adults from the community collect bottles and inorganic trash from surrounding rivers, streets and countryside. It takes around 6,500 bottles stuffed full of trash such as chip packets and plastic bags to build a two-classroom school.

Step 2: Make eco-bricks

Community members stuff the bottles full of cleaned inorganic trash, using sticks or pieces of rebar. You can fit a lot of trash into a plastic bottle! It’s important that the bottles are stuffed full, until they are hard like bricks, and that there is no air inside the bottles.

Step 3: Dig foundations

Foundations are dug for the bottle school, in the same way as with a regular cinder-block school. The depth of the foundations depends on local soil conditions.

Step 4: Assemble the frame (columns and beams)

This is the most time-consuming part of the construction process, and the most important for the structural integrity of the school. First the floor beam is poured, then the columns, the intermediate beam and the upper beam, and finally the roof beams. It’s important to use the correct mix of concrete and enough rebar!

Step 5: Insert pins into the columns and beams

Before the columns and beams dry and harden, pins are inserted into them. These are used to attach the chicken wire (see next step).

Step 6: Attach chicken wire to the pins

Chicken wire is rolled out and pulled as tight as possible before the pins are bent to secure the chicken wire in place.

Step 7: Tie bottles to the chicken wire

Bottles are tied to the chicken wire, row by row. We work in teams of two – one person places the bottles against the chicken wire, while the other passes through a loop of nylon thread and pulls it tight around each bottle.

Step 8: Spread cement

Once all the bottles are in place in one wall, a second layer of chicken wire is pulled tightly over them, so that the bottles are sandwiched in between two layers of chicken wire. Next, three layers of cement stucco are applied on top of the bottles, the final layer providing a smooth, clean finish.

Step 9: Add the roof

Affix the rafters and secure corrugated tin roofing on top using the same method as building a traditional roof.

Step 10: Lay the floor

Level the ground and lay gravel. Pour the concrete floor and smooth it out.

Step 11: Add the doors and windows

Finally, we add the metal doors and windows.

Step 12: Inaugurate and celebrate

The whole community comes together to dedicate the school and celebrate the possibilities that have been created by this newfound educational opportunity.

For more detailed information about how to build a bottle school, together with a wide variety of resources to help you, please see the Bottle School Manual.