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Recycling Plastic Bottles To Build Eco Friendly Schools}

Recycling plastic bottles to build eco-friendly schools


Chris Barry

In October 2010, San Diego nonprofit Hug it Forward completed the construction of their fourth green school – or “bottle school” – in a rural Guatemalan village near Central America’s tallest volcano. Prior to Hug It Forward’s partnership with Nueva Reforma to build a new school by recycling plastic bottles, two grades of village primary students crammed into each of the existing classrooms and a makeshift shack.

Upon identifying the need for more adequate classroom space, project facilitator and Peace Corps Volunteer Jamie Staples worked with community leaders to initiate a community-led effort to collect plastic bottles and non-biodegradable materials from the streets. Children and parents stuffed the collected bottles with plastic bags and other inorganic waste. Local construction workers and masons then stacked the recycled plastic bottles in the walls, secured them with chicken wire, and finished the walls with layered stucco. At the end of the project, the bottle school diverted 3,000 pounds of trash out of the local landfill and rivers.

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Manifest Foundation, Hug It Forward’s primary sponsor since April 2010, supplied the funding for construction of the sustainable school in Nueva Reforma while the community contributed the skilled and unskilled labor necessary.

“The bottle school has been a source of pride for a community that otherwise has very little in terms of infrastructure. It doubled the square footage of classroom space and provides a space for community gatherings such as meetings, elections, and dances,” says Staples.

In addition to tackling infrastructural needs through finance and technical assistance, Hug It Forward is dedicated to serving local communities and project facilitators in educating local youth about recycling, upcycling and environmental awareness.

“They have much more respect for nature than people in ‘developed’ countries like the US. The issue is that they do not realize that plastic bottles take hundred of years to biodegrade, that they cause a hazard to wildlife and tourism and that the fumes of burning plastic are toxic,” says Heenal Rajani of Hug It Forward.

Where once stood a lean-to structure of bamboo and rusting corrugated metal roofing now stands a new baby-blue structure that is eco-friendly with ample special comfort to accommodate all six grade levels.

Hug It Forward completed its inaugural bottle school in November 2009. Over the course of the following year, they have scaled their efforts from that one school to four finished schools with three more currently under construction and plans to build five more in the coming months. As a result, Hug It Forward and its partner communities have successfully removed more than 8 tons of trash from the environment and increased Guatemalan educational square footage by nearly 4,400 sq ft.

Hug it Forward is a 100% nonprofit organization based in San Diego that blends intangible change with tangible change globally with one goal, uniting people as one. The intangible change is provided through the scientifically proven power of free hugs. The tangible change is provided by empowering communities to unite by working together to towards a common goal. The goal is to provide schools built out of wasted trash bottles called “bottle schools”. For more information about Hug it Forward, please contact Zach Balle at (858) 888-2626 or visit

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