3 Students from the Kasiisi area of Uganda, who attend school adjacent to
Kibale National Park in western Uganda, are preparing bottle bricks to build
a biodigester on their school’s campus. Photo by 
Kate Wrangham-Briggs 

Empty plastic bottles litter the planet worldwide.  Low resource regions lack recycling infrastructure and building materials are scarce and costly.  Filling the empty bottles with dirt, sand, or even with non-biodegradable rubbish to create building bricks brilliantly addresses both challenges. They are the invention of Andreas Froese, a German architect who pioneered the technique in Honduras, Central America in 2005.

The bricks are laid horizontally with mortar, creating thick, durable walls.  They are 20 times stronger than conventional bricks, earthquake resistant, and are good insulators, keeping cool in hot seasons, and maintaining warmth in colder stretches.  They cost only a third of conventional building materials.  The fact that plastics are non-biodegradable and hang around for centuries – normally an environmental scourge – becomes a virtue when they are upcycled into dwellings.  These walls are not going anywhere! There are now bottle bricked latrines, biodigesters, houses, and even a whole Nigerian housing project

Not only do they clean up litter, but no energy is required to fire them, so their carbon footprint is less than conventional bricks.  Eliza Moreno posted from the St. Monica’s Tailoring School in Gula, Uganda, where she spearheaded the bottle brick construction of a this beautiful house:

The construction process of building with bottles is work intensive.  This means many can be involved in the process, creating opportunities for employment and community involvement, from collecting to filling to building.  In our case, students from the area were invited to fill bottles in exchange for scholastic materials such as notebooks and pencils… While this method would potentially be costly in more industrialized nations, where labor is expensive and materials are cheap, in countries like Uganda, materials are expensive, labor is cheap, and jobs are in demand.

 House built at St. Monica’s, under Eliza Moreno’s leadership.   

Some methods resemble adobe, with plastered walls, so the bottle construction is not visible.  Other styles allow the ends of the bottles to remain, creating interesting patterns.   

The cost of bottle brick building is hard to pinpoint, since so much of the material is locally accessed waste or readily available fill.  Bottle bricks can be used for anything from a simple fence, wall, cistern or shed up to a complete home.  Innovations and regional variations are cropping up as the technique spreads around the world.  It seems well-suited for incremental construction, whereby people expand their homes or sheds as time and resources permit.  

Note the details, the patterns of the bottle’s bottoms
A low-tech, low-barrier Do It Yourself construction technique, women can quickly adapt it as their own. The most famous practitioner is the Bolivian dynamo Ingrid Vaca Diez, a lawyer with a passion for helping the poor. When her husband complained that the mountain of bottles accumulating on their patio were enough to build a house, she did just that, and kept on going. Diez has personally headed up the construction of over ten bottle-brick homes for low-income migrants from rural areas.  
She works on bottle-brick projects all South America, and judging by the pictures, lots of volunteers are welcome, as are contributions.

I am not sure exactly what this round wall cordons off, but it suggests two great functions for bottle bricking. The first is for water cisterns, to preserve rainfall.  And the second would really leverage the eco-friendly nature of this exciting upcycling technique, building the retaining walls of a magical keyhole garden.  (Which is my personal goal!)

You can read the Peace Corps review of Bottle Brick School building here.