An unfinished, castle-shaped house in the Plastic Bottle Village (all photos courtesy Plastic Bottle Village)

In 2012, Canadian entrepreneur Robert Bezeau began a recycling program in his now-home of Bocas del Toro, Panama, after realizing that locals were mostly filling their garbage bags to the brim with plastic. PET bottles largely dominated; Bezeau’s new system arranged for a truck and trash crew to pass through the town twice a week to collect them for recycling. But last year, he realized the bottles could receive new life while also benefiting the immediate community and launched a project that uses the tossed objects as a foundation for an eco-friendly residential estate.

A finished concrete panel with an opening that exposes the bottles (click to enlarge)

His Plastic Bottle Village, which consists of 83 acres of lush farm land that he purchased in 2012, is laid out to eventually feature 120 homes in addition to a community garden, a small boutique, and green zones for mini-parks and even a yoga pavilion. Plastic bottles will serve as the walls of every building, with tens of thousands neatly contained within cages of steel rebar that builders then stack on one another. Rocks also fill the cages to help maintain the structure’s rigidity. A one-inch mix of cement plaster then covers this interior armor on both sides to offer the illusion that these houses are just like any other. Living in one, Bezeau claims, will be no different from residing in a home constructed of more conventional material. Each will feature standard plumbing, electricity, windows and doors, a septic tank system, and gutters.

“You don’t need to adapt to the house,” Bezeau told Hyperallergic. “You live normally inside, except that you will feel the house is cooler without the use of energy. You will feel better in your heart knowing you have contributed to eliminating 15,000 to 30,000 plastic bottles and [reducing] your own footprint on this planet. You are changing the world without changing the Earth, one home at a time.”

The bottles serve as insulation, but they also allow for natural ventilation, with fresh air constantly circulating through the cages, entering through built-in air vents and exiting with the aid of an exhaust system. Bezeau also considered future environmental threats when designing this structure: his plastic bottle homes are earthquake resistant, as the rock-filled, steel cages offer a degree of flexibility.

A nearly complete house in the Plastic Bottle Village

Currently entirely self-funded by Bezeau, the Plastic Bottle Village has two houses nearing completion, with a third also rising in the shape of a castle amid the jungle. Bezeau, who once owned a factory in Montreal that made prefabricated houses, has enlisted the help of local architecture firms to design different building types. A typical, one-story house of 1,000 square feet should take about one two months to complete, depending on weather, but buyers who have any desired floor plans may also request to have them realized with plastic bottle cages. The first people to move in next month — a family of three — did just that, resulting in a two-story building that encompasses nearly 2,800 square feet. Three other parties, Bezeau said, have also purchased homes in the Village.

Bezeau, now 66 and retired, is searching for sponsors to help him build more homes. His Plastic Bottle Village is just one of a number of sustainable architecture projects that have emerged in recent years around the world as a means to creatively tackle our worsening pollution problems. A similar green-minded community exists in Sabon Yelwa, Nigeria, where 25 houses have been built with plastic bottles filled with dry soil and construction waste. Recycled plastic bottle houses are also popping up in villages in Honduras as temporary shelters for homeless families. The largest trend in plastic bottle architecture, however, may be the construction of greenhouses. The internet is rife with various step-by-step guides for building these relatively small structures, and the unique designs that have emerged exemplify the potential of a material we might otherwise throw away without second thought.

A nearly complete house in the Plastic Bottle Village

Workers build a house in the Plastic Bottle Village

A house in the Plastic Bottle Village

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...