It's painfully clear that our culture is unfortunately designed around consumption of disposable things, whether it's fashion or throw-away cutlery. And if there's one thing this culture has in abundance, it's waste. But, if one can shift one's perspective, that so-called "waste" can be transformed into something completely new, different and surprisingly useful.
For the last two decades and more, environmentalist Nargis Latif is one of these people who are diverting waste like cleaned paper and plastic from landfills or worse by using it in the form of recycled "bricks" to build structures for the poor in Pakistan, as well as other things like water reservoirs and furniture. Watch this short interview with her via CNN:
You can make beautiful structures using rejected material. Houses, swimming pools, water reservoirs in areas where there are water issues, little dams even.
The plastic inside is not a filling, it's a technique ... You can only make it if you learn how to. If you make such bricks, it's bye-bye to pollution, climate change and the melting glaciers, because you've stopped burning garbage and plastic. It will stop getting stuck in drains as well as prevent flooding of roads when it rains.
The bricks are consolidated into one piece by a thermopore shell and tied up, and stacked up to create a distinctively shiny structure. Gul Bahao, the Karachi-based research organization that Latif founded back in 1994 to promote this method of building, calls these structures "chandi ghars" or "silver houses". Since 2005, over 150 of these buildings have been erected all over Pakistan. In particular, the ease and speed of setting up a chandi ghar may be helpful in deploying temporary shelters during natural disasters, such as during Pakistan's 2005 earthquake, or as portable housing for Pakistan's nomadic minority, says Latif:
Those families, instead of living in mud houses, can benefit from these shelters. Once the water runs out, they can easily pack up and move with their livestock to a place with water and farming facilities. They won't need to construct their mud houses from scratch. This would also reduce infections and diseases that spread because of dirt and mud.
Of course, there is the hurdle of getting people to change their mental preconceptions of living in what is essentially a house made out of (albeit clean) waste. But there's potential here though: to make it more appealing to a wider number of people, these bricks could certainly be clad and finished with other materials, much like a strawbale home. All that is required is a bit of imagination and thinking outside of the box. In the end, Latif sums it up well: "I'll be damned if people don't use this to their advantage."
More info over at Gul Bahao.