Bottle schools are built using tried and tested post and beam construction, using concrete columns and beams reinforced with iron. The main difference compared to building with bricks or cinder-blocks is that bottle schools use “eco-bricks”. Eco-bricks are plastic bottles that are stuffed full of inorganic trash. The eco-bricks are stacked on top of each other like bricks, and then covered with cement to form the walls of the school. More details of how to build a bottle school
Eco-bricks are made from plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic trash. It is very important that you use bottles that are dry and somewhat clean and trash that has no food residue on it and is dry as well. Eco-bricks need to be completely solid (thus the term “eco-brick”) and can be filled using a stick or any stick-like material that is inflexible and can fit through the mouth of the bottle (a piece of rebar works great). To fill a bottle, you just need a variety of different inorganic trash and you start to stuff the trash until it completely fills the bottom of the bottle with no gaps or spaces. You continue to use this method until you reach the mouth of the bottle and if your bottle is solid enough to stand on without it compacting at all, then you can cap it and store it as your eco-brick.
The trash we use to build our bottle schools comes from the community where the school is built, and sometimes the surrounding communities. In most parts of Guatemala, and many other countries around the world, there aren’t recycling facilities and sometimes there isn’t even a trash collection service; people usually have to burn or bury their trash to get rid of it and much of it gets washed away with the rain and gets dumped into the local watershed. Part of the partnership we create with each community where we build bottle schools is that community members volunteer their labor; this means that the community has to come together and work as one to collect all the trash and bottles needed to build their future bottle classrooms.
The biggest reason to build with bottles is that it is great for the environment, both locally and globally. Many communities in developing countries like Guatemala have no trash or recycling services, so the local people are forced to burn or bury their trash. When they burn their trash, it creates a lot of air pollution which can lead to a lot of upper respiratory diseases from asthma to lung cancer. If they try and bury their trash, most of it gets washed into the rivers and oceans during the rainy season. Since every bottle school takes over two tons of trash to build, we are helping to limit the environmental and health impacts that trash can have on our environment. Other reasons we like to use bottles is to lower overall costs and because the lessons of environmental education will stay with children in the community forever. See more reasons to build bottle schools
Generally, a bottle school can be completed in 4 to 5 months for a two classroom structure. Adding more classrooms adds more time and many factors can lead to a bottle school taking longer to finish. But, if the weather and does not interfere, the local people are out helping with the construction and all of the eco-bricks needed are finished before the school is started, then there should be no reason why a bottle school project couldn’t be finished in three to four months.
Since the bottles are only the filler in the wall, they do not need to be “strong enough” to support the overall structure of the building. They actually have no structural integrity. Instead, to support the structure of the school we use rebar and cement columns, both horizontal and vertical. The bottles do provide excellent insulation. The bottles are inside the walls placed between two sheets of chicken wire and are plastered over with cement so they don’t receive any sunlight and insects and animals cannot get to them; nor is the heat sufficient to degrade the bottles.
Bottle schools last as long as regular buildings made with post and beam construction. They should last at least 100 years. The plastic bottles in the walls have no effect on the building’s durability. But durability is all dependent upon local weather and seismic patterns.
Our building methods are rigorously tested by structural engineers to comply with international building codes, including tests for how the structure would perform in an earthquake. We take safety very seriously, especially since Guatemala lies on a fault line and is susceptible to earthquakes.
The costs vary depending on many different factors (some of them are listed in the Bottle School Manual
). The average cost comes out to around $6,500 per classroom, which is 30-100% cheaper than other schools in Guatemala built using cinder-blocks, which is the most common comparable construction method.
People have been building things using trash for a long time, using lots of different methods. The idea of using plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic trash to build was initiated in Guatemala by the organization Pura Vida
. Hug It Forward heard about the technology after being introduced to Laura Kutner, a Peace Corps volunteer who was working with the community of Granados to construct two classrooms using plastic bottles. The technology has continued to evolve since then into its current form which is very different from the earliest incarnations.
A lot more than you think! It takes up to two hours to correctly stuff a plastic bottle until it is solid like a brick, with no air spaces inside, and you can’t fit any more trash in. In the process, you can fit 90 or more plastic bags or chip packets into the bottle. But don’t take our word for it – try it at home and let us know! Make sure you use proper technique to get the bottles stuffed properly.
Many communities have plenty of inorganic trash to build their own bottle school. If they don’t, other local communities contribute. It would be a dream come true for us if there were no more trash in the world to build any more bottle schools! We dream of a world where nobody throws anything away.
It takes around 6,500 600ml bottles stuffed with trash to build a school with two classrooms of 6m x 8m each. That’s between two and three tons of trash in total!
Hug It Forward provides support of teachers and schools through physical infrastructure. Often we are replacing existing temporary structures that communities have created – people want their kids to go to school and people are resourceful, so they construct what they can out of what they have: adobe, sheet metal, wood, corn stalks. It is a pre-requisite of our bottle school projects to build at a school that is already certified by the local governmental educational system, or the Ministry of Education. In Central America, all public schools are funded and run by the government which is in charge of providing the teachers for all the schools throughout the country. If a school is not recognized and certified by the Ministry, then the community will have to get certification through their local Ministry’s office as much as up to a year in advance of their proposed start date for the school year. Since we don’t want to build classrooms that will not be used, we need to have the assurance before starting a project that our classrooms will be used by students and teachers.
The focus of Hug It Forward’s work is in the municipality of San Martin Jilotepeque, which is one of the poorest municipalities in Guatemala, although we do have projects in other areas too. Gerson Guitz, our Director of Bottle Schools, has worked in San Martin Jilotepeque for many years and has close relationships with local communities, masons and the mayor. Communities hear about bottle schools by word of mouth and approach Hug It Forward expressing their desire to build a bottle school in their community.
Interested communities submit a detailed application form including as much information as possible about their community. Hug It Forward assesses applications taking into account many factors, paying particular attention to the need for a school in the community, poverty, strong local leadership, and the desire the community has for a bottle school.
We love Peace Corps volunteers! We believe that they are future worldchangers. We have had a lot of success working with Peace Corps volunteers on bottle school projects – they are exactly the sort of facilitators that a bottle school project needs in order to be successful. Hug It Forward does not have an official relationship with Peace Corps, although we are friends with Peace Corps staff and volunteers in Guatemala, El Salvador and beyond. We are excited about the possibility of one day supporting Peace Corps volunteers in other countries to build more bottle schools.
The Bottle School Manual
is a step-by-step guide on how to build a bottle school in your community. It’s a wiki (like Wikipedia) which means that anybody can edit it and add to it. Use it how you like, and contribute to the wiki, help us make it better!