Recycled Plastic Bottles: Building New Classrooms for Filipino Schools

Building a new classroom in a deprived area like Patayas, Philippines is really difficult – unless you use discarded plastic bottles in place of concrete or bricks. By Jeremy Torr.

Payatas, Philippines. 29 January 2012. On the doorstep of the notorious Payatas dumpsite – the place where thousands of tonnes of Manila garbage is dumped every day – the local people are planning for a green future for their children. They have built a classroom from old plastic bottles scrounged from the dump, helping solve two problems at once. First a refuse problem – too much plastic rubbish; and second, not enough room to educate the next generation of local children.

The bottle classroom at Payatas Elementary School was dreamed up by Illac Diaz of the local MyShelter Foundation. He decided to try turning the millions of trashed plastic bottles into a place for children to get an education. So, together with MyShelter volunteers, he organised a bottle collection and gathered hundreds of bottles to build the classroom walls – on a site was donated by the local government of San Pablo.

“It’s very empowering because what used to be a problem is now a solution,” says Diaz about the project. Previously, more than 70 students were crammed into a single classroom. "Some of them were not listening because of so many pupils. They're very noisy, so the teachers were facing problems," said Mr Romeo Tatad, vice-principal at Payatas Elementary.

Previously, schools were only built of cement, steel and glass. But, says Diaz, the alternative, especially for poor regions, should be to look at all available solutions, cheaper solutions, local solutions. “That is why this plastic bottle is a good start. It's a pioneering way to look at how a simple plastic bottle can be used as a brick," he pointed out.

The thousands of bottles are held in place by adobe and reinforced with steel bars to give strength with ease of construction.

The classrooms at Payatas are even better than normal concrete at resisting powerful storms

The classrooms at Payatas are even better than normal concrete at resisting powerful storms

The other advantage, apart from cost and availability, is the ease of building in holes for ventilation and the fitting of large “solar bulbs” for lighting. Eight classrooms will be eventually built, mostly made out of glass and plastic bottles, all about twice the size of standard teaching rooms – yet only a third of the cost of conventional ones.

The other plus is being much lighter and less rigid, they are expected to better withstand the typhoons that hit the region. "Normal classrooms are becoming, you know, cheaper and cheaper and less durable,” said Diaz. And as climate change has become more pronounced, with more unusual and more severe weather episodes,  schools are  where people run to as a place of last resort, he notes.

And with a perfect resource in the form of millions of bottle building bricks arriving at the dump every week, it looks like Patayas has a great recycling and education future for its schools. “We have to look for new ways where cheaper doesn't mean that it's less safe," says Diaz.

Photos ©Kristel Marie Fuentes Gonzales