When Robert Bezeau moved from Montreal to Panama in 2009, one of the first things he noticed was the trash: the beaches surrounding the island where he lived were lined with plastic bottles. In a year and a half, working with volunteers, he estimates that he collected more than a million bottles for recycling.
Surrounded by piles of bottles, Bezeau started wondering if they could be used for something new—a building material for houses in what he calls the Plastic Bottle Village. In a new short documentary from Mel Films, filmmaker David Freid visits Panama to see one of the houses now under construction.
In Bezeau's design, the bottles are stuffed into simple cages made of wire mesh, and then built into a second cage made from steel rebar. The bottle-filled boxes become insulation for each house, and are covered with concrete.
A large house can contain about 20,000 bottles—more than an average millennial might use in 80 years. Bezeau suggests that buying a house would cancel out the negative effects of a lifetime of throwing out bottles, though the house doesn't solve the problems that come with making bottles in the first place. Still, it's a cheap and readily available insulator—and tossing bottles into cages doesn't take electricity, unlike recycling.
As insulation, bottles also work surprisingly well: Bezeau claims that the house can be as much as 35 degrees cooler inside than the broiling Panamanian jungle, so people living there can avoid using air conditioning. The bottle-and-frame construction is also supposedly safer in earthquakes—and in a flood, a broken section of the house could, in theory, become a floatation device.
Bezeau hopes to build 120 homes, and is attempting to set up an exchange program that would give families food for collecting bottles. He also hopes to set up a training program to teach others to build similar houses.
"It's a crazy idea," he says in the film. "I admit it's a crazy idea. But what is crazy? What is right, what is wrong? It depends how you see things. I see things different."
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