This company turns plastic waste into affordable housing in Mexico

EcoDomum is turning an environmental problem into a housing solution.

When Mr McGuire dropped his epic 'one word' on Benjamin in The Graduate, little did we know that the 'great future' in plastics would also include an epic environmental boondoggle. Once lauded as a dream material, plastics is now one of our technological advances that is contributing to massive global pollution. That great future from plastics has come, boosted the mass production of both the useful and the wasteful, and is leaving a toxic legacy all over the world. The ease with which plastics can be molded into a bazillion different complex yet lightweight shapes, and then pumped out by the thousands millions has enabled an entirely new sort of industrial revolution, which perhaps could best be described as the disposable revolution.

One-offs and single-use items are easily and cheaply made from plastic, and although they're only meant to last for one task, the material itself lasts for an incredibly long time. There are all kinds of questions about the impact of plastics on the environment, and estimates for how long it takes for the materials to break down into something relatively inert, but we don't really know how long plastic objects and their components last in the environment. It's only been less than a hundred years since the introduction of most plastics to the world, with some of the most common, polypropylene and expanded polystyrene (styrofoam) not being invented until the mid-1950s. Some of this stuff could last forever, for all we know.

And maybe, just maybe, that longevity could be one key element of building affordable housing, at least in some parts of the world, where poverty and plastic waste seem to go together. A startup in Mexico, EcoDomum, is using plastic waste as a raw material for creating low-cost wall and roof panels, and a subsidized housing program underwrites some of the cost, with families only paying some 5,000 pesos (~$280 US) for a 430 ft2 dwelling.

The panels, which measure about eight feet long, four feet wide, and one inch thick, are said to be not only durable and impermeable, but affordable as well, and are produced by EcoDomum's plant at the rate of 120 per day. That works out to some 5.5 tons of plastic waste being converted from trash to building materials every day, just from one small plant. A simple house uses about 80 of these panels, and according to founder Carlos Daniel González, includes about two tons of plastic, and can be built in about a week.

According a post on Unreasonable.is, the process is rather simple:

"First, the company collects all kinds of used plastic—from soda bottles to old toys—and separates it to find the types that melt without emitting harmful fumes. Then, they put the plastic into a machine to chop it up. Next, the pieces are placed in an oven that heats up to 350 degrees Celsius (over 600 degrees Fahrenheit), taking approximately half an hour to melt all of the material. Finally, the liquid goes through a hydraulic press, which simultaneously compresses and crystallizes the plastic into the shape of the panels."

Not only does this project have a lot of potential for creating more affordable housing for people living in poverty, but it also may help stimulate the local economy (and clean up the environment) by working directly with trash collectors to pay higher wages in exchange for a constant supply of the raw materials for the EcoDomum plant.

EcoDomum plastic panel house© EcoDomum
EcoDomum has already built more than five hundred of these plastic panel houses in several cities in Mexico, and is working on contracts for several hundred more, with the company's goal being to move into a larger working space and to expand throughout the country in 2016.

More information about EcoDomum is available on its website.

Tags: Buildings | Mexico | Plastics

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