From Plastic Waste To Affordable Housing: Here's How It's Done

Plastic. It's become ubiquitous with living in the 21st century. It makes things easier, like packaging foods, wrapping luggage, collecting garbage or grabbing drinks for takeaway. However, our overuse of plastic has serious consequences on the Earth. In fact, each year, we throw away enough plastic to surround the Earth four times. It's no surprise that on the other side of that statistic, virtually none of the plastic we use is ever recycled and some kinds of plastic only begin to break down after ten centuries. From previous articles, you will also remember that since the early 1950s, we've created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, much of which has ended up in our waterways.

Like some previous startups we've covered here, this startup is working to help reduce our plastic waste. There are a number of ways to approach this problem, some startups, like Evoware which we mentioned before, create environmentally friendly products that replace commonly used plastic products and others find a way to repurpose the waste that has already been created. Today's startup, EcoDomum falls into the latter category.

EcoDomum, founded in Mexico where 5 million tons of plastic are used each year, making it the 12th largest plastic consumer worldwide was created by Puebla native, Carlos Daniel González. Founded in 2013, the mission of González and his new company was to create durable, affordable housing by reusing recycled plastic that would otherwise become waste. This approach meant not only tackling Mexico's plastic use issues but also acknowledging and attacking Mexico's other large problems, extreme poverty (defined by the World Bank as living on an average of $1.25 or less daily) and lack of affordable housing. González's hometown of Puebla, where the company is still based, is one of the poorest states in Mexico, though about ten percent of the country suffers from extreme poverty. Due to the poverty level in Puebla, which approaches almost 65 percent, he had first-hand experiences with both the massive pollution in the city and lack of safe, affordable housing.

So what does his startup do? They collect plastic, melt it down into panels used as molds and then use those panels to construct walls and roofs. The result is a completely insulated house. The plastic comes from various sources like discarded toys or pop bottles. Once EcoDomum collects it, they sort it and it is melted at temperatures exceeding 600 degrees Fahrenheit. This process itself takes about 30 minutes to complete. Once the plastic is fully heated and it's been melted down, it is put through a hydraulic process to compress it into the shape of the panels we mentioned earlier.

The panels themselves are approximately 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and an inch thick. The houses are built to be between 430 and 460 square feet and include two rooms, a bathroom, living room and kitchen. The number of panels needed to construct a full house is 80 but González insists that the process is quite simple. His company produces about 120 panels daily, meaning that 5.5 tons of plastic waste is repurposed a day as well. The houses should last a century without degrading and offer an environmentally friendly and wallet-friendly solution to the housing crisis; in just 7 days a new house can be constructed from as much as 2 tons of plastic.

The cost of their roofs is currently 600 pesos (approximately $33), an external wall unit is 650 pesos ($36) and an interior wall unit goes for 500 pesos ($38). Though they have constructed prototype houses, currently, the local governments of outside organizations construct the subsidized houses leaving families to pay 5,000 pesos (approximately $280) for their 430 square foot units. EcoDomum takes a holistic approach to their business model and ensures that they stimulate the local economy as well by paying local trash collectors a better rate for their work. In fact, they almost doubled the wages of local trash collects who are often paid too little to survive on. After constructing hundreds of homes and creating a state-wide lasting impact, it's amazing to think that the idea for EcoDomum came from such humble beginnings. From a child's dream of ending pollution and giving back to an amazing environmental tech startup, EcoDomum has made major headway in the housing market.