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Building community bottle by bottle

Posted on October 04, 2011

It is amazing (and a bit baffling) to think that what takes up so much room in the trashcans of American schools, with a little innovation, could become the actual building blocks for schools of communities in need.  But this is exactly the visionary project that has been taken on by California-based nonprofit Hug it Forward.  Since 2009 the organization has constructed 14 schools in rural Guatemala built not from brick but, discarded plastic bottles. Public resources, collected through fundraisers across the U.S. and independent donations to their website (, are used on the ground where all members of the recipient community are actively involved in the construction of the school itself.  The recycled bottles are collected and stuffed with inorganic waste to insulate the building.  The bottles are held together by chicken wire netting, and then covered in cement and painted.  The finished products are identical to, standard cinder brick walls, and just as secure, but bear a far greater positive environmental and social significance.

Not only do the projects provide the physical necessities of schools in deserving areas and local clean-up but, perhaps equally as beneficial, the building process is the best lesson in environmental education out there.  A huge part of building the structure is made possible by the school’s future students through their bottle collection and on-site assistance. Furthermore, Hug it Forward fosters community ownership and international connectedness between Americans and Guatemalans.  An example of a typical bottle-school can be found in Granados, Guatemala where the initiative was first put into action and over 5,000 plastic bottles were used to build two-room schoolhouse.  The construction required 9,720 lbs. of cement and 2,053 lbs. of trash that would have otherwise remained in landfills.  Now, 297 children attend school there everyday.

At ExchangeMyPhone we are inspired by the reuse pioneered by Hug It Forward which they so appropriately refer to as “upcycling.”  And that’s the truth!  Reuse is often much more than the word suggests because it means not only bringing something discarded out of “retirement” but, reinventing it, re-imagining the possibilities and giving the object a new, even more useful life.  There is no doubt that the plastic bottles are far more useful now, nestled between the newly-built walls of a school, than they ever were being used for the purpose for which they were designed.  An object that once had a one or two-use life expectancy has been completely transformed.

If you want a fun way to get involved then it is literally as easy as giving an hug. For each hug tracked on the Hug it Forward website one dollar is donated to ensure that more bottle schools can be built and the message of the initiative is perpetuated: Humanity Unconditionally Giving it Forward.

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