Do you ever stop to wonder what happens to plastic bottle containers after you dump them in the trash? Or do you even bother to dispose of them properly in the first place?
Fact: Of the tons of garbage that continue to accumulate, bulk of them are plastics. The bad news is they are non-biodegradable. After hundreds of years, they will eventually break down but unlike organic waste that will decompose, plastics won’t truly disappear from the eco-system.
It’s not likely that Coca Cola and other soda makers will stop producing soft drinks. Or that people will no longer patronize bottled or mineral water. So PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles are here to stay. Well, they aren’t going anywhere actually, right?
So how do you address the problem of disposing them without overcrowding dump sites and landfills?
Recycle. Be Creative
Recycling is one alternative. One of their most creative uses to counter its effects to the environment is to serve as hanging pots for plants. I saw a plant supplier in the market who sold herbs and other vegetables planted in PET bottles.
It’s perfect for those living in the city, without space for a garden. All you need is some place to hang the bottles from and voila, a hanging garden. You can plant common veggies like lettuce, mustard greens and pechay or grow your basil, mint and tarragon.
Or you can take the cue from iconic noontime show Eat Bulaga, which launched its Plastic ni Juan project last year where they go around barangays in Metro Manila and nearby provinces to give away cash and prizes provided the whole village helps out by gathering all their plastic waste and donating them to the show.
In turn, these plastics (PET bottles among them) are made into armchairs and donated to public schools around the country. Once they are able to accumulate at least 50 chairs, these are delivered to schools that sent in letter requests because obviously, this basic need is not being filled by the system for lack of budget.
Since they launched it last September, at least six schools have benefited from the project. You can see the joy on the students’ faces when these are turned over to them. And you know they have added incentive to do better in their studies because there is someone supporting them and looking after their needs.
In January, I think they reported having collected one million plastic bottles already. Now that is one big community undertaking. And that’s aside from other plastic wastes like old hangers, pails, basins, etc.
Social entrepreneur Illac Diaz started it with a school project. That is, building a school or classrooms the non-traditional way: using PET bottles. It’s way cheaper (40% less the cost) and you help save the environment by finding uses for the plastics.
His way also involves the community who are tapped to help in collecting the bottles in order to build the school. Each bottle (1.5 and 2 liter bottles) are filled with a mixture of silica, ash and lime — the same ingredients used to make bricks in the old days. Human hair, which also does not degenerate fully, is also added to add strength. And they are way more sturdy than hollow blocks and cement so it can withstand typhoons and even earthquakes.
It takes at least 8,000 PET bottles to build a classroom, so imagine how much of the garbage you are able to re-use instead of it just harming the environment. And if the technology is adopted by government to address the perennial problem of classroom shortage, then the budget will go a long way, more jobs will be generated and the Philippines can be a model for alternative construction methods that is ecologically sound.
After his bottle school projects, Illac is now introducing another simple solution to a problem plaguing many of the poor households nationwide: electricity or the lack of it. Again, he is using PET bottles to make solar light bulbs.
For many informal settlers living in the city, electricity is a luxury. Power rates are rising and the small dwellings necessitate the use of lights even at daytime. Through the solar light bulbs made of used PET bottles, water and bleach, you can illumine a room or your household, as if often the case, during the day without consuming electricity. The water-filled bottles, inserted through the roof, captures the reflection of the sun’s rays and diffuses light particles making it appear like you have some 55 watt bulb.
In far-flung villages that has yet to be reached by electricity, these are welcome innovations. Come to think of it, with summer just around the corner — even if it is La Niña — everyone can take advantage of this. You do your share for the environment by reducing use of fossil fuels used by power plants, lower your electricity consumption and reduce waste.
It’s easy to make, easy to install and you only change the water after five years. Illac’s goal is to light 1 million homes by 2012 using his solar light bulb technology.
So the next time you buy some product using PET bottles, you only have to remember what they can be used for after that will be ecologically friendly. We really have to do our share to bring balance back to nature because let’s face it, we will suffer for not disposing our trash properly.