A plastic bottle of "New Coke."

Coke Bottle

Schools.  Coke Bottles. Plastic Bags. How Do You Build a School from Trash?

The young, former Peace Corps volunteer stood next to a crude wooden wall filled with stacks of Coke bottles.

The Peace Corps, celebrating its 50-year anniversary, was one of the featured exhibits at this last summer’s 2011 Folklife Festival on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

Bottle School

It was near the end of the day, but I was curious about the wall of bottles.

“It’s a replica of our bottle school,” she said.

“What’s a bottle school?” I asked.

The town she had been assigned to in Guatemala lacked a school when she got there, and the money to build one.

Noticing the trash in the streets, she came up with the creative idea of collecting the plastic garbage bags and aluminum cans from the streets.

The community collected them  and stuffed them into plastic bottles. Then, they used the bottles as the filling between the wooden frame struts for the walls of a school.

Chicken wire held the bottles in place. Cement was then used to cover the walls.

Getting rid of the trash while building a much-needed school in a community with few cash resources was also a community-building effort.

There are now five communities in Guatemala that have adopted this approach. The Peace Corps has turned the project into a series of lesson plans for teachers K-12.



That is the famous line in the 1967 move, ranked as the 7th greatest movie of all time, “The Graduate”. Dustin Hoffman, a new college graduate, is advised on what career to pursue.

By 1979, our output of plastics had exceeded our output of steel.

Recycling, or repurposing, has become important in our lifetimes because plastic does not break down in nature the way materials did before the widespread use of plastic.

The Drepression-era mantra of frugality, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” turned into the post-World War II aspiration, “consumable society.”

The result, fifty years later, is the Great Pacific Garbage patch of trash floating around the Pacific Ocean. A boat captain, Captain Charles Moore, has been following what happens to plastic when it gets into the ocean and how far it travels.

A miner, Mike Biddle, has come up with an approach for what he calls above-ground mining, chemically sorting plastic.

This is what Buckminster Fuller predicted when he said that eventually we will not use raw materials to make things. We will use materials from things we already have.

What Do you Recycle?

I stack our old newspapers in bags for recycling and separate cardboard boxes.

I keep a plastic recycling bin outside the kitchen door for glass, metals and plastics.

I save out batteries for taking to the dump on hazardous-waste day.

I never remember to bring in my cloth bags to the grocery store, so take the plastic bags to our church’s food pantry for food distribution days.

I keep laundry baskets full of plastic and cardboard containers with flat tops for grandchildren to stack and build forts.

From bottle schools to mining plastic.

From recycle bins at your curb to reused plastic in your computer.

What do you do to recycle?

Do you recycle plastic? Newspapers? Cardboard? Does your community require it?

Do you bring your own cloth bags to the grocery store instead of using their plastic or paper bags?

When did you start recycling?

Did your parents? Do your children? Your grandchildren?

Monday through Wednesday we write about the way the world has changed since we raised our children so you can think about stories from your own childhood, or that of your children, to tell your grandchildren. Click here if you want to keep getting these posts in your Reader.

If you want our report on “How to Leap the Generation Gap: 58 Reasons Child-Rearing Is Different Today” (I was 58 when I became a grandmother:), click here.

To you and the abundant resources you leave your grandchildren.

Carol Covin, “Granny-Guru”

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers