Class act: Turning plastic bottles into the building blocks of education

Johannesburg - A small company in the east of Gauteng has figured out a way to turn recycled plastic into functional building material that can be used to build classrooms countrywide.

Bottles2Build turns plastic waste into square-shaped bottles which interconnect, helping to create structures.

"What is really nice about the initiative is that, not only is it about keeping plastic out of our landfills, because plastic is very harmful for the environment... but also uplifting local disadvantaged communities," said Bottles2Build’s brand development manager Kevin Petitt.

Bottles2Build was launched about five years ago with the aim of finding a way to use the millions of plastic bottles which would otherwise end up piling up in landfills across Gauteng.

"The whole objective with rethinking plastic was to rather up-cycle than recycle, finding an alternative use for something that was used for something else before."

A total of 45 classrooms have been built so far. However, Petitt says the initiative has not yet become fully familiar on the market.

"It has been quite difficult to implement, because [getting] people to change their habits is probably one of the hardest things that a person can try to obtain."

He said having to explain that the bottle would end up being used as a brick, was still confusing to some.

'Such an easy way to give back'

However, this was not the case when 18-year-old Shane Bassin spotted someone selling the square-shaped bottles at a market in Johannesburg, earlier this year.

"I saw them selling the water and I looked at it as such a great concept and idea, and I said I must take it to my school."

Bassin then approached the organisation and his school, King David in Linksfield, north-east of Johannesburg.

"After a long process… the school and Bottles2Build agreed to sell the water at the school. I managed to get them sold at the high school tuck shop as well as the primary school tuck shop.

"The main goal was to be able to build a classroom and they loved the idea," Bassin said.

Bassin, who is the head boy, said he had convinced the school to sell the bottles at the school’s other branches.

With the help of Bottles2Build, Bassin and pupils at his school helped build a classroom with the bottles at Sediba Thuto Higher Primary in Soweto.

The classroom would be officially used next year for a Grade R class, he said.

Bassin said he would continue to collect more bottles.

"We are still collecting the bottles at all events. We sell the water bottles at school plays, at open days, at sports games. Everywhere where there is a school event, we sell the waters."

Bassin, who wants to work as a human rights activist one day, said he had always wanted to help others.

"I love helping people and things like that, so when there is an opportunity… it was kind of like something that I had to do.

"It was such an easy thing, just selling water and then asking people to bring back the bottle is such an easy way to give back. It was kind of the easiest form to get people to help other people," he said.

A classroom built by Bottles2Build from recycled plastic. (Supplied)

90 000 bottles needed for each classroom

Bottles2Build works with a bottle-making company to manufacture the bottles. The manufacturer then delivers the empty bottles to the organisation, which fills them with water and then distributes them to their clients and consumers.

Each bottle is sold for R4.12, Petitt said. But each retailer can then sell it at whichever price they see fit.

So far, the organisation has partnered with 20 schools and 25 corporate companies who have agreed to sell or hand them out at events.

A total of 90 000 bottles is required to complete a classroom. Once a skeleton steel structure is put in place, the bottles are packed in tight rows, to fill each section of the structure’s wall.

Once the frame is completed and filled with the bottles, each side is measured and plastered to make it a complete and watertight structure.

"What is really nice about this building method is that, not only is it cheaper than the conventional building method because there is nothing but air inside the bottle, air is the most natural insulator, so when it is really hot outside, it is air conditioner cool inside the classroom.

"When it’s cold outside, it is warm inside, without having to use additional electricity," he said.

Petitt has hopes to build even more classrooms in future.

The organisation also aims to get the bottles into more retail spaces, in order to increase its presence in the market.

"We will also be creating a mobile app, where consumers in a community will be able to notify us on the app when they have saved maybe three or four bags of our bottles and we can arrive for collection," he said.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.