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October 12, 2016

One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Home

Published Sep 30, 2016 in Justice
Taken from the Jesuit Post

I nearly always stump people in "Two Truths and a Lie" when I say that I used to work at a landfill. People are convinced that must be the lie. But sure enough, I worked at my local landfill one summer in high school.

While I knew in theory that trash doesn't magically disappear when we put it on the curb or throw it in the bin, that job gave me a glimpse of what our collective waste looks like. It's massive. It's growing. And it's full of plastic. Roughly 40 billion plastic water bottles are thrown away in the U.S. each year.

I thus became fascinated when I recently came across this video about the Plastic Bottle Village on an island in Panama:

Who would have thought that the plastic bottles we see everywhere could be used to build houses - let alone well-insulated homes that are earthquake resistant? The project creatively addresses the "throwaway culture" that Pope Francis discusses in Laudato si'.

What inspires me most about this initiative is the opportunity mindset of Robert Bezeau, the founder of the Village. He is deeply familiar with the problem of waste on his island. Rather than only seeing discarded plastic bottles as a problem, however, he sees them as an opportunity.

Plastic bottle homes may not be possible in all climates. Still, turning problems into opportunities could be relevant for any location. Abandoned lots could become urban gardens. Closing churches could become shelters for the homeless. A long commute could be a time to pray or study a language.

Bezeau admits that this is a "crazy idea." But is it any less crazy than discarding billions of plastic bottles a year and choosing to forget about them? Perhaps we are the crazy ones.

Michael Rossmann, SJ