How can we use plastic to solve homelessness?

By Olympia Dalitis

Plastic bags and plastic packaging have been household items for years. We created the plastic bag and have consequently depended on it for decades. We are now drowning in it. It has become dangerous to our wildlife, difficult to recycle and causes blockages in local drainage systems of developing countries. How could such an innovative product cause so much destruction? The answer is simple…we created a product that only has a single use.

The production of plastic packaging accelerated in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the early 1960’s where the lightweight shopping bag was invented by Swedish engineer, Sten Thulins. The bags were invented as an alternative to paper bags, which at the time were considered to be a product of deforestation. But now, the opposite exists. In the 1950’s, the plastic bag was initially designed to be re-usable, but it ended up as a single use product due to the fascination with its disposable use. The problem was that single use plastics were not easy to get rid of, and this problem continues today. 

We now have a staggering 9.2 billion tons of plastic to deal with, of which 6.3 billion tons have never been recycled. Countries are working to combat the issue of plastic waste, but what happens to the billions of tons of plastics already wasted? Can it be used towards resolving another pressing global issue…the issue of homelessness. 

The paradox is that while so many people have barely enough to get by and are living in poor conditions, our planet is suffocating from an over consumption of plastics. Where 9 billions tons of plastic has gone to waste, only a small percentage has been recycled. The question we need to consider is, can the mountains of plastic waste be used to create affordable housing and combat the humanitarian crisis of homelessness? 

Amnesty International have reported a growing number of 26 million refugees globally. Two thirds come from only five countries, Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. The world is having to do more to share the responsibility of resettling those without homes. In addition to this, almost 1 billion people worldwide are settled in slums. An affordable method of housing is certainly required to address this problem. 

Norwegian company, Othalo, was established in 2019 and have introduced a patented pending technology to manufacture wasted plastic into building systems such as shelters and affordable housing for refugees in developing countries. This is a solution that could be the future of the housing crisis, while also addressing plastic waste. The process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials to create affordable, sustainable and eco-friendly housing which meets modern living standards. It is believed that you would need only 8 tonnes of recycled waste plastic to build a 60m2 home. The company claim that an incredible one billion houses could be created from the amount of plastic currently in landfill sites. In terms of the companies plans and readiness, Othalo will develop its first series of building elements and designs for low-cost homes. over the next 18 months. The company expects to be ready to start mass production as soon the pilots are approved.

There is a long way to go to address the global issue of homelessness and plastic waste, but there is certainly hope when new start up companies seek innovative ways to tackle global crises. Othalo have introduced a great concept of using plastic to solve homelessness in developing countries and we look forward to seeing how this progresses. 

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