Frequently Asked Questions

Eco-Brick Technology

How are plastic bottles used to create classrooms?

Our bottle classrooms are built utilizing the established method of post-and-beam construction: using concrete columns and beams reinforced with iron re-bar. Unlike more traditional construction methods, which use bricks and cinder-blocks to fill in the wall spaces of post-and-beam structures, we use ecological bricks or “eco-bricks” instead. Eco-bricks are made from used plastic soda bottles and are stuffed with inorganic trash. They are then stacked on top of one another inside a cage of chicken wire mesh and, finally, they are covered with cement to form the walls of our bottle classrooms. For more details on eco-classroom constructions, check out our BSM.

How are eco-bricks made?

Eco-bricks are created from used, empty, dry plastic soda bottles. It is important that you use dry plastic bottles and that the inorganic trash chosen to be stuffed is free of leftover food residue. Eco-bricks need to be completely solid and can be filled using a stick that can fit through the mouth of the bottle. We find that a short piece of re-bar works best but the handle of a kitchen wooden stirring spoon can also work. To fill a bottle, just stuff trash into the plastic bottle and use your inflexible re-bar or wooden spoon handle to help you compact it so that there are no gaps or spaces. Continue to stuff inorganic trash until you reach the mouth of the plastic bottle. Once you reach this level, try standing on your bottle stuffed with trash to see if it is in fact an eco-brick. If it does not collapse, you have made your first eco-brick!

Where do you get the trash from?

Due to the lack of local trash management solutions, most of the trash we use to build our bottle classrooms comes from the immediate community where the project is executed, and sometimes from the surrounding communities. Often, the momentum to create eco-bricks for the bottle classroom construction can leave rural communities free of visible, public litter. At every community where we build bottle classrooms, the community volunteers time and energy to help collect local trash to create the quantity of eco-bricks necessary for their future bottle classrooms.

Why build with eco-bricks

Many communities in the devleoping world, such as those where we work in Guatemala, have almost no locally or nationally supported trash management programs, so people are forced to burn or bury their trash. Burnt plastic trash creates toxic air pollution, which can lead to upper respiratory diseases from asthma to lung cancer. When trash is buried, much of it gets washed into the rivers and oceans during the rainy season, and protecting watersheds is important to many of these communities’ livelihoods. Since every bottle classroom repurposes roughly a ton of trash, each executed project helps to better the lives of the local people and environment. Building with eco-bricks also helps to lower overall project costs and creates a multi-purpose space for community discussion to build awareness about environmental obstacles, both local and globally. (See more reasons to build bottle classrooms.)

How long does it take to build a 3 classroom project?

A 3-classroom bottle project generally takes 3 – 4 months to complete once the eco-bricks have been collected. The weather, the time it takes a community to collect the eco-bricks, and other cultural/local factors can change any project’s timeline. Every bottle classroom project is unique and each timeline will also vary, but we always try and build in the most efficient manner possible.

Are the bottles strong enough?

In the more traditional post-and-beam construction method, cinder-blocks are used to fill in the spaces, but they also have a load-bearing capacity, which makes them more expensive to use as filler. Eco-bricks are only wall filler and so do not need to be ‘strong enough’, as they do not provide any structural support in the construction of our bottle classrooms. In the post-and-beam construction method, the wall filler does not nor need to provide any weight/load bearing support. Our bottle classroom room structures are made strong by the structural integrity of the re-bar reinforced concrete columns and beams. The eco-bricks provide the substance to replace the more commonly used and less environmentally friendly cinder blocks as wall filler in the spaces created by post-and-beam construction. When finished, the eco-bricks will be plastered over with cement and will not be susceptible to degradation to due to any outside element like sunlight, change in temperature, etc.

How long do bottle classrooms last?

Bottle classrooms last as long as regular buildings made out of cinder blocks with post-and-beam constructions in Guatemala. We estimate that they will last 100 years, but this is dependent on changes in climate and seismic activity.

What happens if there’s an earthquake?

Our building methods have been approved by the Ministry of Education to withstand earthquake levels common in the region of Guatemala. There have been many earthquakes in Guatemala since we began building here in 2009 and, to date, no classroom has been negatively affected by earthquakes. We take safety very seriously, especially since Guatemala lies on a very active flat line.

How much does a bottle classroom project cost?

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 $7,000 per classroom, which is 100-200% cheaper than other schools in Guatemala built using cinder-blocks, which is the most common comparable construction method.

Who invented bottle classrooms?

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 was introduced to the technology through Laura Kutner, a Peace Corps volunteer who was working with the community of Granados to construct two classrooms using plastic bottles. Since then, the technology has evolved a lot into our present day work.

How much trash can you fit in a plastic bottle?

A lot more than you think! We’ve found that you can fit around 80 plastic shopping bags into one 16-20 ounce plastic bottle. If you’re trying to stuff old chip wrappers, depending upon the size, you can often pack a lot more than 100 wrappers into a 16-20 ounce plastic bottle.

Hug It Forward

How many people work for Hug It Forward?

We’re a multicultural team of 4. Please see the ‘Our Team‘ section under ‘About’ to learn more about our team.

Is Hug It Forward a registered non-profit?

Yes, Hug It Forward is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit, registered in the state of Wyoming. Our Tax ID number is 27-0909586. All donations to Hug It Forward are tax-deductible.

Why did you choose Guatemala?

Guatemala chose us! We were introduced to Laura Kutner, a Peace Corps volunteer who was building with eco-bricks in Guatemala. We loved the eco-brick technology as means to make change and it made sense to stay in Guatemala due to our relationships and experiences in the country. We’ve been here almost a decade and feel like it’s our second home!

Who pays for the bottle classroom projects?

We have many different funding sources that include but are not limited to: online fundraising, offline donations, conscious businesses, major donations, individuals fundraising for bottle school trips, individual donors, foundations and grants.

Does Hug It Forward fund 100% of the bottle classroom projects?

A successful bottle project is all about strong partnerships and fostering local project ownership. Hug It Forward does this by combining the resources provided by the donors, the participation of local community members and the local mayor’s municipal budget. Hug It Forward’s donors pay for all of the materials required for bottle classroom construction. All of the skilled labor required to build the schools is paid for by the local community’s municipal development division, pre-arranged with a pre-project agreement with the local mayor’s office. All of the unskilled labor is donated by the community members, with each person having to work a set number of days on the construction site. Each bottle classroom project is unique, but, generally speaking, it is accomplished with commitments from our donors, local community members and local municipal offices.

Get Involved

Can I participate in a bottle classroom build?

Yes! Serve The World Today, our partner organization, offers one-week voluntourism trips where you can be part of building a bottle classroom project with your own hands. Visit Serve The World Today for more information about upcoming trip dates. Or if you can get a group of 10 or more people together, they can arrange a trip around your availability.

How else can I help?

There are lots of ways you can help – donate, fundraise, spread the word, volunteer, and that’s just the start! See our Volunteer page for more ideas.

Can I collect bottles and make eco-bricks?

If you are located in Guatemala, we may be able to use your eco-bricks – but it would be best for you to visit a bottle classroom project and help place the eco-bricks yourself. See our Volunteer section for more information. If you are not located in Guatemala, it may not make sense to start creating eco-bricks as it would cost a lot, both financially and environmentally, to ship them to us. However, creating an eco-brick as an exercise to see how they are made could be beneficial, if it were then to be used as a talking piece to be able to create dialogue about our work and generally the importance of proper trash management. We’ll leave it up to you but please keep in mind that we can’t receive eco-bricks sent through the mail.

Can I build a bottle classroom in my community?

Yes, you absolutely can build one in your community! The eco-brick technology is for everyone and can be accessed easily through our step-by-step guide, the Bottle School Manual. The Manual is not perfect, and we would welcome your feedback – please take a look and then get in touch!

Can I support Hug It Forward, if I have no money?

There are many ways to get involved without donating directly to Hug It Forward. We’ve seen people fundraise for projects, as well as others who just spread the word about our work and the important role it plays in the communities of Guatemala. We’re always looking for volunteers who can support our operations, so don’t hesitate to fill out our volunteer interest form to see if maybe some of your skills match our current work.

Our Construction Process

What happens if you run out of bottles and trash?

Many communities have plenty of inorganic trash to build their own 2 or 3 eco-classroom project. If they don’t, other local communities contribute. It would be a dream come true for us if there were no more trash and we could no longer make eco-bricks!

How many eco-bricks does it take to build a 3 bottle classroom project?

It takes around 10,500 16-20 ounce eco-bricks to build a 3 bottle classroom project. That’s about 1.25 tons of repurposed trash!

Does HIF provide teachers?

In Central America, all public schools are funded and run by the government which also is responsible for staffing and hiring faculty. Hug It Forward does not provide its bottle classroom projects with teachers nor does it influence the school’s curriculum. We do, however, focus our efforts in ensuring that the bottle classrooms will be used by students and teachers.

How do you identify the communities you work in?

Our current focus is in the department, or Guatemalan state, of Chimaltenango. Within Chimaltenango, interested communities submit an application outlining as much information as possible about their community. This community interest application is then combined with a more detailed project proposal from out team, which includes photos of the community, a working budget and other community and municipal documents. Once reviewed, a community is then either approved or not approved for project funding. We assess proposals taking into account many factors, paying particular attention to the need for the bottle classrooms and local and community support. We are interested in investing in schools where there are more than one teacher given a class in any one classroom, where the existing classrooms are no longer safe and where there will always be at least one teacher per classroom once the bottle classrooms are built. It’s important that our bottle classrooms are used for giving daily classes.

What is the Bottle School Manual?

The Bottle School Manual is a step-by-step guide on how to build with eco-bricks in your community. There is no copyright as it is an open-source document. Use it as you like, and please leave comments on the page(s) with your input – help us make it better!