It was a bright, sunny morning in Karchi, a remote village in Uttarakhand. Students and teachers sat in a circle in a school courtyard to witness a competition – no ordinary one by any means.
Three teams of 20 students each were about to compete to make bricks to build a bench for their school. Whoever made the most number of bricks would win. The only raw materials they had at their disposal were empty plastic water bottles and assorted garbage.
Over the next 30 minutes, the competition produced 201 ‘bottle bricks.’
A bottle brick is, quite literally, a brick made out of disposable plastic bottles. The bottles are tightly stuffed with non recyclable waste such as wrappers and covers. This eliminates empty space in the bottles, and makes them firm. They don’t crush as well. It takes time and effort to stuff one bottle brick. But when it is done, it is as tough and durable as a clay brick.
Why bottle bricks?
As part of its Green Trails program, Indiahikes is changing the way waste is managed in the Himalayas. Our staff, trekkers and the local community get involved in all stages of waste management – right from collection, segregation and disposal.
Trekkers participate in collection by gathering litter from trails in their eco bags. The local community contributes to segregation by using the separate bins placed in villages by our staff. As for waste produced during treks, we compost all our organic waste and send the other recyclable and non-recyclable waste down to a city to be recycled or disposed of.
What we also do with non recyclable waste is experiment to create upcycled products.
Upcycling involves reusing waste to create something of higher value than the original object. Bottle bricks were the result of one such experiment. They are a creative way to use the hundreds of plastic water bottles that are discarded by trekkers and tourists everyday. Since they function like normal clay bricks, they can be used to build structures such as benches, dustbins or even small buildings that meet local requirements.
Laying bottle bricks as a foundation for a bench
These bottle bricks have helped us to creatively use the waste collected on trekking trails.
A single month’s clean up drive on a short trek such as Kuari Pass can yield around 70 sacks of waste, enough fill an entire truck. This can produce at least a hundred bottle bricks. As a result, instead of landing in the stomach of unsuspecting animal or releasing noxious fumes through burning, waste can now be used to solve problems at villages in the Himalayas.
Building with bottle bricks
Going back to the bottle bricks at the school in Karchi – their story does not end with the competition. Like any other village school in our country, this school too barely has a few rooms that can squeeze in roughly hundred students of all ages. There’s a small courtyard for them to play in. Anything beyond the basic blackboard and desk is a luxury here. However, armed with bottle bricks as raw material, the school guiltlessly built a comfortable bench in its courtyard. Every competing student turned into a winner for the school.
Karchi was not the only place where bottle bricks were put to use. Sankri, in another corner of Garhwal, had a similar tale unfolding. The people of Sankri had been troubled for a long time by the litter in their market. They wanted to build a dustbin so that there would be a fixed place for everyone to throw away waste. Though they were all keen to get a dustbin installed, they lacked the resources to do so.
The bottle bricks dustbin under construction Sankri. PC: Gayathri
When the Indiahikes Green Trails team showed villagers what could be done with bottle bricks, they quickly galvanized to gather bottles and garbage. The bottles were collected from various eateries and hotels that discard hundreds of bottles everyday. A single day’s clean up drive in the market was sufficient to collect all the waste required to fill the bottles. Students, shopkeepers, trekkers, Indiahikes staff then got together and over a few days, produced 200 bottle bricks to build the market’s first dustbin.
What Has Upcycling of Plastic Bottles Achieved
Making bottle bricks is a time and resource consuming activity. To build anything substantial using these bricks requires at least a hundred bricks. For example, the bench at the school in Karchi used up 120 bricks. This time and resource requirement provided Indiahikes with the ideal opportunity to take waste management one step further, involving the entire community in upcycling.
Indiahikes staff and Green trails interns at Sankri and Karchi taught villagers how to make bottle bricks and guided them on how they can be used. By learning and participating in these activities, these villagers have not only solved their immediate problems; they have also set in motion a chain of progressive waste management practices for the future. Empowered with the knowledge to harness waste to their advantage, they now have the confidence to manage waste efficiently.
A dustbin made with bottle bricks at Sankri
A big shout out to our Green Trails interns, Gayathri and Radhika at Sankri, Aditi and Masoom at Karchi for taking this initiative forward.
If you have trekked with us to Har ki Dun or Kedarkantha, you will be familiar with the Sankri market. Likewise, if you’ve been on the Kuari Pass or Pangarchulla Peak treks, you will no doubt have walked through villages like Karchi and even participated in a clean up drive. If you have stories to share about upcycling waste that we could use in similar villages, do share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org