This school used to be a plastic bottle. This school also used to be an empty chip bag, a coffee cup and a candy wrapper. In fact, it used to be a whole village full of inorganic trash that littered the streets and clogged the rivers. This is a bottle school: a building comprised of thousands of discarded water and soda bottles that have been packed hard with other waste materials to make “eco-bricks.” Funded by the non-profit Hug It Forward, there are 30 such schools in Guatemala and El Salvador. And corporate America is realizing the possible benefits of working with such wonderful programs to give back.
Hug It Forward began in 2009 with the initial goal to send a hug around the world. However, upon learning of the technology of bottle schools, their objectives quickly transformed from a small project to world-changing venture. Bottle schools are so much more than simply a physical structure built out of waste materials. Their impact is far greater than providing shelter for school children. They bring communities together in solving their problems. Hug It Forward guides the process and funds the basic costs of engineering and building the schools ($6,500 per classroom). However, the community has to manage the project and provide the teachers, and the local Ministry of Education has to agree to provide the salaries. The community members are also responsible for providing the eco-bricks, which means tackling another community problem: trash. Oftentimes, there is plenty of it to go around, as these villages have no waste management system. It takes around 6,500 bottles to build a two-classroom bottle school and the whole community participates, collecting the bottles and packing them full of the other non-biodegradable trash. The final product? A community-built school and a cleaner village.