Not all roofs are created equal.
The material hanging over rural Ecuadorians' homes, for example, is typically built from either grasses -- which attract insects, leak horribly and collapse when water-logged -- or corrugated tin -- which, in a country that averages 86 degrees, transforms homes into ovens.
Fortunately, one far-too-common material is coming to the rescue for the people of Ecuador, creating green jobs and reducing waste along the way: plastic bottles.
Carnegie Mellon's Engineers Without Borders has teamed up with eco-nonprofit Reuse Everything Institute to turn material that once was used to hold drinks into housing material for poverty-stricken communities. According to a video promoting the partnership, 110 million tons of plastic is used each year -- 7.86 trillion plastic bottles, give or take -- and the discarded material can be transformed into a product that dramatically improves everyday life for Ecuadorians.
The first step is removing the bottle's top and bottom, and flattening its cylindrical shape into sheets. The strips of material are then combined to create long ribbons, which lay on top of the housing structure, forming plastic thatch roofing. These steps have become significantly less energy intensive, thanks in part to an automated machine that helps cut and weld the plastic, according to a release by Reuse Everything Institute.
"In [poor, developing] countries, there are minimal programs to help reduce waste," the video explains. "Wasted resources contribute to global poverty, and this affects us all."
But curbing plastic waste and bettering living conditions are only the tip of the iceberg. Another vital component in the partnership is a poverty alleviation program, which trains and equips local entrepreneurs with the technology and know-how to run their own plastic reuse start-ups in Ecuador. The program will create sustainable jobs in underserved communities, easing the burden of poverty for local families.
To learn more and contribute to the partnership's impact in Ecuador, visit the organization's fundraising page.