Nigeria's eco-friendly plastic houses
A project in Nigeria is tackling plastic pollution and youth unemployment by building houses out of discarded plastic bottles and sand. The surprisingly simple method is both durable and environmentally friendly.
Africa's biggest plastic house
This house is being built in a neighborhood some 20 kilometers from the Nigerian capital Abuja. It's the biggest house in Africa to be constructed of plastic, sand and concrete. More than 46,000 polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles have been used so far. The bottles were bought from waste collectors or given as donations to the builder.
A different kind of upcycling
Plastic waste is a huge problem in the country of 186 million people. Plastic bottles often block drainage systems — and torrential rain only makes things worse. There is currently no efficient waste management system for the 3.2 tonnes of waste generated each year, so recycling projects are becoming more important than ever.
The brains behind the project
Construction engineer Yahaya Ahmed lived and worked in Germany for 27 years. During a visit to his home country, he was disturbed by the large-scale environmental pollution. "I simply had to do something," said Ahmed. The project was inspired by similar houses being built in South America. "A friend in Germany told me about this method. I thought, 'We need that in Nigeria too.'"
Tackling youth unemployment
A quarter of Nigeria's 15-24 year-olds have no regular income. Many end up on the streets, begging or stealing to survive. "These young people are extremely vulnerable to exploitation by politicians as agitators, or to becoming membes of radical groups. That's why we want to give them an alternative," said construction engineer Yahaya Ahmed.
Simple but effective
The building process is surprisingly simple. Empty plastic bottles are filled with sand and rubble before they are stacked and bound with nylon cord and walled up with clay and mortar. This method is not only environmentally friendly but cheap too — cutting average construction costs by about two-thirds!
Learning and adapting
Siiba, who was originally trained in traditional bricklaying, has spent the last seven years plastering plastic bottles instead of bricks. "At first it's somewhat unusual to work with bottles," Siiba told DW. "But when one has already learned the technique, it is not that different."
Bulletproof and earthquake resistant
One more advantage of this innovative building method is stability: The sand-filled bottles are practically indestructible. Houses in Honduras in South America — which served as inspiration for the project in Nigeria — have withstood magnitude 7.3 earthquakes. The builders claim they are also bulletproof.
Creativity without limits
Plastic bottles of all sizes and colors are used in the Abuja project and the builders are allowed to let their creativity run wild. In keeping with traditional decorative building features in Northern Nigeria, various templates and colors are incorporated into the exterior walls.
The master trainer
Ahmed spent six months training experienced builders in the new technique. The German development ministry provided financial support. Some of his students from seven years ago have in the meantime become instructors themselves and are teaching a younger generation of builders. Ideally, they will later become building instructors too.
Ahmad and his siblings travelled 500 kilometers (310 miles) from Katsina to Abuja to seek work. The 15-year-old had previously worked in a cement factory making tiles. "The work on the building site is not as debilitating as it was in the factory. We also get regular pay, or something to eat," Ahmad said.