EcoDomum is turning an environmental problem into a housing solution.
There are many problems on this planet in need of remedy, two of which are plastic pollution and extreme poverty. Every year, enough plastic is thrown away to circle the globe four times. Much of this makes its way into the oceans (an estimated 10-20 tons) from landfills and continues to swirl in garbage patches, leaking toxins into the oceans and killing off wildlife that consumes it unsuspectingly.
In addition, roughly 1.2 billion people now live in extreme poverty worldwide or subsist on less than $1.25 per day.
When confronted with the statistics of the issue, it can seem an overwhelming plight to remedy both at once. But a Mexican startup company believes it has found the solution to rid the environment of plastic while providing low-income families with affordable housing.
It is doing this by collecting plastic, melting it down, and shaping it into large panels which are used as walls and roofs to construct insulated houses.
The company took off in 2013 when González, who has been dismayed by the problem of plastic pollution since a child, figured out a way to turn plastic into a resource for those who can afford little.
Reportedly, the process is quite simple. First, the company collects various kinds of plastic – from soda bottles to old toys – then separates it to find the types that melt without emitting harmful fumes.
Next, the workers put the plastic into a machine to chop it up. Then, the pieces are placed in an oven that heats put o 350 degrees Celsius (over 600 degrees Fahrenheit) taking approximately half an hour to melt of the materials.
Finally, the liquid goes through a hydraulic press, which simultaneously compresses and crystallizes the plastic into the shape of the panels.
Once cooled, these panels are then used to construct 430-460 square-foot house.
Each panel is nearly eight feet long, four feet wide, and approximately one inch thick; a repurposed house requires 80 panels to construct. This isn’t a problem for the sole EcoDomum plant, however, which transforms and repurposes 5.5 tons of what was once plastic waste into 120 panels each day.
Each house has two rooms plus one bathroom, one living room and a kitchen.
“It only takes seven days to build a house that uses two tons of plastic,” said González. “[A house] keeps you warm, the costs are low, it’s great for the environment, and it will last 100 years without falling apart. These are just some of our value propositions.”
Certain plastic varieties can take up to 1,000 years to decompose and are incredibly durable; therefore, these houses have an advantage over traditional homes, as they are expected to last a very long time.
Because EcoDomum partnered with a subsidized housing program which underwrites some of the building costs, families can obtain one of the houses for around 5,000 pesos (roughly $280 USD).
In addition, the company is also stimulating the local economy by paying trash collectors a higher rate for their work. González shares that most trash collectors in Mexico are paid abusive wages by large companies, around 1.5 pesos (6 cents) for 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds). His aim is to form alliances with these companies to ensure a constant supply of material for his company’s panels, and also, treat the workers as respected individuals. He has nearly doubled the wages of several trash collectors.
Growing up in the state of Puebla in Mexico, González has been dreaming of a way to remedy the issue of plastic pollution and extreme poverty for years.
“As a kid, I remember seeing all of the plastic and the contamination it caused, for us and for the animals. I’ve always cared about the environment, so I decided I had to create and lead a solution.
I live in a place with a lot of poverty and problems of marginalization. Some people live in truly deplorable conditions, places you can’t even call houses. My vision is very clear. I have the conviction to help the most people I can have a dignified life by getting rid of extreme poverty, cleaning up my country at the same time.”
His vision is transforming hundreds of peoples’ lives. So far, the startup has constructed five hundred 135 square foot rooms for the city of Huauchinango, Puebla. 150 more houses will soon be built for the city of Chiconcuhutla, and EcoDomum is working on a contract from the city of Pahuatlán for another 150 homes.
2016 will be a big year for the company as it seeks to expand into a larger warehouse and start expanding all throughout Mexico.
“This has the potential to grow exponentially,” said González. “The problem of trash is huge in my country. In the whole world, there’s a ton of trash. In the next year, I want to grow the company ten-fold. First, we will concentrate in Mexico, but in 3-5 years, we want to go to other countries. There is poverty everywhere. The world is a house for everyone, and it’s worth it to fight for expanding this business. I will dedicate the rest of my life to this.”
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