Society and environment

Housing program in regional Chile puts new twist on recycling

In Olmué, central Chile, the regional government is constructing houses for its most vulnerable families from recycled household goods. 

Monday, April 23, 2012  
Houses built with recycled bottles. (Photo courtesy of the Valparaíso Regional Ministry of Social De Houses built with recycled bottles. (Photo courtesy of the Valparaíso Regional Ministry of Social Development)

The town of Olmué is best known for the La Campana National Park - where you can see the entire width of Chile, from Andean peaks to the Pacific coast - and the Huaso Festival, where you can see local “cowboys” dance the cueca and sing traditional folk songs.


Now, a project by the Regional Ministry of Social Development is putting Olmué on the map from an entirely different reason.


It’s a simple idea that brings the community together to tackle two great challenges confronting the world - providing affordable housing and reusing household waste.


So what’s happening in Olmué?


It’s called ecoladrillos (“eco bricks”): plastic bottles, the same ones that are used everyday by millions around the world for water and pop drinks and more often than not are thrown away without second thought.


The bottles are filled with non-biodegradable waste, like wrappers, labels and all the other plastics used by members of the community.


The result is a sturdy, earthquake-resistant building material, not to mention cleaner streets and less money and space absorbed with traditional waste management.


“Use plastic bottles, wood and ‘tetra packs’ in the construction of houses, is becoming an ecological alternative that gives a useful destination to all this material that is used and discarded indiscriminately in our society,” local governor Arturo Longton told La Voz de Valparaíso. “It’s about improving the management of used goods and with it, the environment of the community.”


The project - still in its pilot phase - is bringing school students, volunteers and community members together to help provide housing for some of the most economically vulnerable families in the region.


But with positive early results, plans for expansion are already underway.


“This is more than just a concern,” said Tomás Ochoa, the regional minister of social development. “Reusing these materials and converting them into a resource for the construction of housing will be a full-time job.”

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