From plastic waste to homes
Can you clean up litter and house people with one idea? Yes, says an innovative Danish student.
L ise Fuglsang Vestergaard has a passion for baking. Last winter she travelled to rural India and, although it was hardly the optimal season for testing her sun oven, she got it to work. “We struggled with the mist that forms during the day and partially blocks out the sun, but we still managed to heat the grill to 200°C and produce nice little bricks of very high quality.” Not cakes, but little bricks. A student in design and innovation at the Technical University of Denmark, Vestergaard uses this method to produce sustainable building materials from plastic waste.
During a study trip to the small town of Joygopalpur near Kolkata in 2013, she noticed two problems: streets were littered with soft plastic and foil-covered snack bags that nobody wanted to collect because they had no recycled value in this rural area, and most houses were made of clay bricks that would wash away in the heavy rains.
When Vestergaard returned to Denmark, she began to experiment with melting soft plastic into moulds in an oven. She managed to transform the waste into colourful bricks strong enough to build a house that could withstand the weather. But an ordinary oven is a no-go in rural India where electricity is unreliable. Last winter, she returned to Joygopalpur with a grill that works using solar energy.
“When the villagers saw us working with this ‘useless’ waste, they asked us to also help get rid of their own soft plastic and snack bags,” Vestergaard recalls. “When told about the project, they even came up with new ideas like using the plastic bricks to build furniture.”
Given the lack of infrastructure in rural India and the monetary worthlessness of soft plastic, it is essential to operate on a local scale. Working with the Danish NGO InnoAid, Vestergaard hopes to turn her idea into a simple setup that can be easily implemented. She is heartened that, with technical assistance from InnoAid, an NGO in Myanmar recently adopted her idea.
Recycling and refurbishment are still rare in Europe’s economies. Platforms like Refurbed offer a first contact to a more sustainable approach.
In the face of large-scale industrial water pollution, technologists are demonstrating the surprising value of wastewater.