Building with Bottles in Nueva Ahuaypa

Nueva Ahuaypa is a Shipibo community about 12 hours upriver by boat from Pucallpa, Peru; it cannot be reached by car. I began working in Nueva Ahuaypa in 2009 as a Fulbright scholar on a photography project that examined how environmental changes affect community well being. Among the many issues identified, including climate change, drying of plants due to a ¨stronger¨ sun, overfishing by outsiders, etc, was the contamination of drinking water and the land from inadequate disposal of trash.

What people don´t realize is that even though these bottle_filled_yardcommunities are far from the city, and virtually in the middle of the jungle, they live on the river, and are subject to daily contact with the western world, so they have developed a dependency on packaged food, milk, beer, etc., as seen in this picture of a community member´s yard after several years of access to bottled goods.

However, while these goods are made readily available to them, environmental education and government waste services are not. So the once compost piles, located in the back of their homes, have now become mini above ground landfills, and when the rains come, this waste washes into the river–their only water supply.

As fates aligned, I met Brian Best, our current Community Solutions Director, who had implemented a waste management project in the native community of San Francisco, and just happened to have funds to implement a replication project. This is how the project, ¨A Cleaner and Healthier Nueva Ahuaypa¨ began. Please see our Community Based Solutions page to see how our waste management programs work in Shipibo communities along the Ucayali.

In the early days, part of the program was collecting recyclable materials that the local municipality would then transport free of cost to sell in the city, giving the community an additional income. Plastic bottles make up the largest part of these materials, and we have already collected several tonnes.  The trash that wasn´t recyclable and wasn´t organic, deemed ¨inservible,¨ comprises about 4% of Nueva Ahuaypa´s waste, and a small landfill was built for this trash, although the idea of a landfill never really sat well with us, as while it puts waste in one spot, it contaminates the soil, and in a true ecological system there should be no waste.

After about a year, we stumbled on something awesome from our friends at eReciclaje:


Now, maybe a plastic bottle stuffed with plastics doesn´t look too awesome to you. But, what if we stuffed all of the plastic bottles with the non recyclable trash, thus eliminating the need for a landfill, and then used those bottles to start doing what the people at eReciclaje started to do:


And then from this, you get THIS:


I´m pretty sure you have changed your mind about plastic bottles at this point. It certainly changed ours, and also changed the people of Nueva Ahuaypa.  I shared these photographs and experiences at a general assembly in the community, and everyone in the community was in favor. Many of the school buildings in Ahuaypa are falling apart, and having a building method that uses resources found in the community allows for an excellent way to better infrastructure at a low cost. 

Working with the elementary school in Nueva Ahuaypa, their homework every Friday for a month was handing over one large plastic bottle filled with non-organic, non-recyclable trash. It was a great way to get the kids involved in the project, and teach them about environmental care.

On our last trip, we worked with these children, and started to build THIS:


It´s a bench and planter right next to the soccer field so that they

can sit in the shade and watch the games. This is a modest attempt, but we wanted something tangible and easy so that children and adults alike could see that this is possible!

After painting the bench in Shipibo design, our next project is to build a composting toilet out of these bottles– an ecological toilet in every sense of the word. The community is also collecting bottles to build their very first ¨local comunal¨ or local meeting center to hold celebrations, general assemblies, etc.

Some people ask, ¨but isn´t that dangerous, what about the off-gases?¨ To which we reply, what about the off gases coming from your paints, stains, varnishes, carpet, insulation, flooring, kitchen cabinets and countertops, paint strippers, etc. that are used in your house? These constructions are using already occurring materials in the community. If they were not in the walls, they would be in the rivers and the ground. While the ultimate goal is to reduce consumption of these materials, for the mean time, this offers an ecological, safe way to reuse these materials while keeping the community, river, and forest litter-free. 

Deborah Rivett, Tuesday, 20 March 2012

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