Laura Kutner


You'd never know it just from looking, but the new bright orange schoolhouse in Granados, Guatemala has walls built with used plastic bottles—and so much other plastic waste that the team who built it had to go to neighboring villages to collect waste because they used up all the trash in their own.

Peace Corps volunteer Laura Kutner was inspired to start the project because of the plastic trash that she noticed everywhere in Guatemala, and because schools had classrooms with no walls. So she borrowed the idea of using bottles as a construction material from Pura Vida, and with materials and labor from local businesses as well as help from Hug it Forward, they set to work.

The team filled individual bottles with plastic grocery bags, chip bags, and other waste they had collected, and after placing the bottles inside metal fencing (for shape), they used trash again to fill spaces between the fencing and the bottles. We needed A LOT of plastic trash," said Laura—if the empty spaces weren't stuffed with trash, "then it flew right through to the other side when we threw the cement on. We used so much trash that we could not find anymore in the town and had to go to neighboring villages to get some of theirs. It was awesome!"

After the fencing was stuffed with waste, three layers of cement were placed on each side—creating the look and stability of any other wall. Essentially, the bottles just serve as insulation.

The orange building is the completed school—the bottles are inside the orange wall. Lined up in front of the school with Laura (in the blue dress), are the team leader and two members of Hug it Forward/Abrazos Gratis, Laura's Peace Corps replacement Rebecca Wike and another Peace Corps volunteer. Reyna Ortiz de Ramirez, the director of the primary school and the project's co-leader with Laura, is fourth from the left, and the others dressed in purple are the teachers who work at the primary school and who helped see the project through.

Laura called the project "truly the perfect example of a team effort. If the entire town had not participated, it would not have happened!"