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Plastic Water Bottles for the Win: Ecuadorian Thatched Roofs

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It takes 40,000 18-wheelers to deliver plastic water bottles throughout the U.S. every week.

After being consumed at a rate of 1,500 bottles per second nationwide, where do these plastic bottles end up? Eighty percent of the 7.86 trillion bottles end up in landfills, while only 2 out of every 10 are recycled. This results in more than $1 billion worth of plastic (approximately 90 million tons) being wasted every year.

Crazy, right? Be reasonably dismayed, but take heart! There is good news.

Reuse Everything Institute, Inc. (REII) is putting the overly abundant plastic waste to use by creating roofs for homes in rural Ecuador. (Yes, roofs is the standard plural form in all varieties of English.)

A thatched roof made from plastic bottle waste covers a bridge. Photo credit:

The Pittsburgh-based eco-nonprofit has teamed with Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineers Without Borders to reduce plastic waste and improve daily life for many Ecuadorians. Using an automated machine, the top and bottom of each bottle is removed. The bottles are then flattened and welded together into long ribbons, which are laid on the top of the housing structure.

From left to right: Dr. David Saiia, CEO and co-founder of Reuse Everything Institute, collects water bottles; Carnegie Mellon University students cut water bottles into strips; coils of welded plastic ribbons ready to be attached to roof frames. Photo credit:

Dr. David Saiia and a student engineer attach plastic ribbons to the roof frame. Photo credit:

REII’s plastic thatch roofs are more effective than the commonly used grass — which attract insects, leak, and collapse — or corrugated tin that overheats an already hot home. The plastic allows water to run off the roof and also possesses heat venting qualities. In addition, the plastic thatch lasts 10 times longer than natural grass thatch and creates a brighter home interior by allowing daylight to filter through.

Vananh Le, co-founder of Reuse Everything Institute, displays the plastic ribbons that compose the thatched roofs. Photo credit:

A brighter home interior created by a plastic thatch roof. Photo credit:

The benefits of the plastic thatch project do not end there. The project includes a poverty alleviation program that creates sustainable jobs in underserved communities, in turn reducing the burden of poverty for Ecuadorian families. The program trains and equips local entrepreneurs to begin and sustain their own plastic reuse companies. “Our ultimate goal,” said Dr. David Saiia, CEO and co-founder of REII, “is to apply the automated technology to help jobless or underemployed people create profitable businesses that convert waste plastic into construction products.”

Dr. David Saiia admires a newly installed plastic thatch roof. Photo credit:

The plastic waste conversion project is not only for Ecuador. REII is hoping to use their cost effective, energy-efficient automated machines in the U.S. to transform discarded plastic bottles into low-cost building materials, such as fencing, roofing, and greenhouse covers. The organization envisions a national and international program, beginning with their plan to establish five pilot ventures in Pittsburgh.

A landscaping fence created by Reuse Everything Institute. The fence "offers homeowners a way to protect their home gardens from deer and other plant-damaging animals without obstructing the beauty of the landscaping." Photo credit:

So, what can YOU do?

REII and the student engineers from Carnegie Mellon University have been working hard to improve their production process. To do this, they are striving to raise $50,000, which will be used to conduct further research and development, buy materials and equipment, and perform field testing. $15 offsets personal plastic waste generated in a year (about 150 bottles), $25 removes and converts 250 plastic bottles, $50 purchases blades for one plastic reuse machine. Contributions help reduce the amount of plastic waste in landscape and landfills, alleviate poverty, and reuse plastic waste in a more energy-efficient manner than traditional recycling.

Oh, and one more way to help: cut down or eliminate your plastic consumption.

Don’t worry, REII and similar organizations already have millions of pounds of plastic waste at their disposal. Let’s not add to the overly abundant amount that plagues our beautiful earth.

To read more about the Plastic Thatch program or to make a donation, visit REII’s fundraising site.

To learn more about Reuse Everything Institute and their other programs, visit their website.

Sources: Nonprofit Creates Roofs From Plastic Bottles, Reducing Waste And Creating Jobs At Same Time Plastic Water Bottles Causing Flood of Harm to Our Environment Reuse Everything Institute Plastic Thatch REII teams up with CMU students to tackle plastic waste and create jobs

Photo Credit: Hand-Powered Machine Transforms Plastic Bottles into Thatched Roofs for Tropical Climates Reuse Everything Institute

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