I am sure that I will never look at an Evian water bottle in the same way. In the right light, a bottle can be seen as a construction tool for a wall, bathroom, school, or bench. This past week, Rising Minds used bottles as the core supply in two projects: a wall to contain a medicinal and vegetable garden in Panyebar and a wall to contain the Rising Minds nursery. For the past 3 months, the Rising Minds team and beneficiaries have been collecting plastic bottles from local restaurants, bars, stores, and the ever-so-glamorous Guatemalan dumps. Why build with bottles? Modern consumer culture generates billions of tons of trash every year. Many communities cannot process the trash and it either ends up being burned or put in streets and lake.
Bottle construction is a cost effective and environmentally friendly solution that provides both construction materials as well as reduces plastic bottle pollution problems. Building with plastic bottles ‘upcycles’ trash, turning something that can pollute lakes into something that contributes to the betterment of the community. Communities come together during the building process to focus on environmental education and reducing trash pollution as well as fostering resilience, transferable skills, and empowerment.
The bottle wall in Panyebar has been completed partly using bottles and canes. The bottle wall at the Rising Minds Nursery is still in process as it requires 744 bottles to complete. The Rising Minds bottle wall will also serve as a communication outreach point for the work we do as it will have a photo and fact in each bottle to form a mural.
In my experience, projects utilizing recyclable materials are more time intensive and require a higher degree of flexibility than projects using traditional building materials. The recyclable materials have already lived one life and so they come with a history that can make building trickier (such as when bottles have been crushed). Building with bottles has taught me two additional important lessons:
1.) In the future with Rising Minds projects, I believe the women and men we work with should not only identify the need, supply the idea, and provide the labor and some supplies for a project, but the community should also ideally supply all the building materials. In the case of the bottle wall in Panyebar, the women did not have enough bottles to make a bottle wall and so we supplemented most of the bottles. In this situation, I think it would be better to find an alternative material so the project could be more easily replicated by the community without Rising Mind support.
2.) The application of the advice Professor David Blaney gave me before I left for Guatemala: “don’t make things worse, and you’ll be fine.” I recently read an article about a non-profit which was building a bottle school in a village. They soon noticed that the soda consumption had sky-rocketed in that village. When staffers asked people about the increase in soda consumption, people responded that of course they were going to drink more soda to collect enough bottles for the school. This reminded me that it is critical that we ask ourselves at each step, “am I making things better or worse?” I believe that is a bar I can raise my bottle to.