They Build with Bottles

By: Angel Julajuj
Prensa Libre

San Marcos Atitlán, Guatemala

Recyclable, half-liter plastic bottles, filled with used snack wrappers, are used locally to build walls and houses here.

The idea was put into practice after the passage of Hurricane Stan, which left this area as one of the most punished in its wake. Much of the aid that flowed into the area consisted of spring water and soft drinks bottled in disposable containers.

In an initiative, conservationists and community leaders worried about the amount of contamination that the empty bottles caused, especially because there is no processing plant for solid disposables in the area.
A Perfect Solution

It was from this context that Susana Heisen, of the Foundation of Pure Life of Atitlán, searched for a kind of collaboration with the families that lost their homes. “It occurred to me to build walls with the trash,” she remembered.

The government aid consisted in providing houses to the victims, but these merely had canvas roofs.

“They weren’t dignified homes, fit for living, so we thought to utilize the bottles to construct more sturdy houses,” Heisen said.

Later came the recollection of bottles and bags of tortrix, (typical Central American snacks), potato chips, and other similar junk foods. The majority of this work was realized by children.

The construction of a house takes approximately 2,400 refilled bottles.

Many neighbors also took advantage of the experience to learn glass manipulation skills, based on what they find in the garbage; they use the glass to make various handicrafts, such as adornments for windows, lamps, and table-top ornaments.


The neighbor Marcelo Orozco Ujpán explained that home construction with bottles and other containers is already normal here.

María Mendoza remarked that many people participate in the recollection of disposables. “It’s interesting how these residuals, which damage nature, can serve for a humble and dignified home,” she said.    

Adela Mejía Méndez, of the Association of Women for Development, affirmed that her group supports this type of recycling.

Candelaria Cox Vázquez mentioned that she has a small room constructed with plastic containers, which maintains a cool atmosphere at night and a hot one during the day.

The builder David Méndez let it be known that he has had to learn how to mix bottles with cement, stones, and sand for construction.

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