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Rolex Award Honors Sustainable Building Solution in Paraguay
Julia Levitt, 19 Dec 08

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Social innovator and entrepreneur Elsa Zaldívar has developed a new product for home construction in Paraguay. The material, produced as panels that can be used as a substitute for wood, is lightweight but sturdy, and relatively inexpensive to produce, making it a boon for impoverished communities, particularly those in storm-prone areas of the country. And the panels are made of renewable and recycled materials: dried vegetable matter and recycled plastic. The practical and game-changing creation recently earned Zaldívar the Rolex Award for Enterprising Individuals

The idea for the construction material was born out of another social enterprise: in 2001, Zaldívar earned an Ashoka Fellowship to help women of Paraguay's Caaguazú region achieve economic security. She helped them develop a business model around growing and selling loofah, a native plant that, when dried, becomes a rough, spongelike husk that is used in a variety of cosmetic products. As part of their business plan, the women grow and harvest the loofah using practices that are ecologically sound, a practice that adds value both because it produces higher-quality plants that command higher prices, and also because it protects the farmland for years to come.

But even as the loofah business succeeded, Zaldívar wasn't yet satisfied. There were large amounts of wasted vegetable matter left over once the best-quality loofah plants were chosen and processed. Zaldívar recognized the opportunity to use waste from one industry as a nutrient to feed another. She worked with industrial engineer Pedro Padrós, who tested and developed a machine that combines the loofah waste with three types of recycled plastic to make sturdy panels. The panels now cost about U.S. $3 each to produce (competitive with other comparable materials), and will likely become even more affordable in the future.

According to an article published by Rolex:

[Zaldívar] is also involved in discussions with several companies interested in using the panels commercially, but her main aim is to make the material available at low cost to those who need them most.

By supplementing the panels with other locally obtained materials such as bamboo and adobe, Zaldívar believes rural families should be able to build their own simple house in just three to four days. Even urban residents, who often have access to subsidized credit and other government assistance, will be able to use the panels in constructing decent housing.

Read the full article online here.

This innovation is important in Paraguay, where lumber is a diminishing natural resource, and many people need access to affordable materials for constructing safe homes to live in. It is an inspiring example of a solution that is both regionally and culturally appropriate, as it draws on resources that were being produced by the local community in a way that is sustainable, frugal and conservation-minded. And this smart technique can be adapted to suit other regions with waste vegetable matter and plastics, where this style of housing and construction will suit the climate and the needs of the population. The Rolex Award will fund ways to spread awareness about this solution, in the form of a promotion center near Asunción, the construction of three model houses, and the production of a video that will describe the project to people in other countries.

Thanks to Worldchanging ally Hesseltje van Goor for the tip!

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Comments

Hello!

Et après, comment recyclez vous les éléments mixtes plastique-Lofa, le plastique ne se recycle pas, on déplace dans le temps le vrai recylage du plastique c'est tout!!!!!

Chaque années Rolex détruit des milliers d'hectares de terre pour extraire de l'or et des diamants, où est l'écologie la dedans!

Salutations Flavio Gaviota


Posted by: Flavio Gaviota on 20 Dec 08

Hello!

Et après, comment recyclez vous les éléments mixtes plastique-Lofa, le plastique ne se recycle pas, on déplace dans le temps le vrai recylage du plastique c'est tout!!!!!

Chaque années Rolex détruit des milliers d'hectares de terre pour extraire de l'or et des diamants, où est l'écologie la dedans!

Salutations Flavio Gaviota


Posted by: Flavio Gaviota on 20 Dec 08

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