Elizabeth Rose, President of the Board of Directors of an organization called “Long Way Home,” contacted me to tell me about a very unique project that’s underway near Comalapa, in the western highlands of Guatemala. While building houses and schools in developing countries by non-profit organizations isn’t new, what is different is that Long Way Home uses local materials. In this case “local” materials consist of dirt from the property where they are building combined with old, worn tires and plastic bottles bound for landfill or empty fields.

To use materials such as plastic drinking bottles and old tires as building materials is nothing short of brilliant for many reasons. These waste materials are found in abundance in Latin America, while recycling or proper disposal methods are severely lacking.  Garbage is a real problem in most developing countries; governments can’t provide the infrastructure to deal with it so villages tend to either burn it which lets noxious fumes into the air, or leave it  which then pollutes local watersheds and lands.

Currently, Long Way Home is building its biggest project to date: a school and community center and park with a community garden, basketball court, soccer field and community kitchen. The project takes into account the slope of the natural landscape, incorporates solar energy panels, a waterless composting toilet and rainwater capturing systems into its design while educating the community on the importance of a clean environment to human health.

The schematics of the new community buildings show how the buildings will use natural ventilation to keep the building cool in summer, the walls being as thick as the tires’ diameter and packed with dirt have a significant thermal mass to them. This means that the walls are able to keep heat out in the summer and in in the winter. Ventilation in the upper tier of the behive-shaped structure allows heat to escape during the day, and cold air to filter in at night. The tires and pop bottles form the basic structure of the wall and are covered with a cob layer (pine needles mixed with mud) and then finished with local lime stucco that dries into a smooth white plaster appearance. Best of all, the work is all low-tech with little maintenance required which means the buildings will provide shelter and education for years to come.

The latrine is made from old pop bottles that have been filled with non-perishable garbage for density and mass. The bottles are bound by chicken wire and then stuccoed, creating a very ingenious latrine (not to mention a good way to get rid of garbage!).

Using empty plastic pop bottles for building construction
Plastic bottle latrine during construction

To follow the progress of the building, you can link to the blog written by the architect, Ericka Temple, for the project here:


For more information on Long Way Home’s mission and their progress, visit their website.

BEC Green

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