How to Build a Plastic Bottle Bench in 7 days, a project with URDT Girls School

I worked with over 60 girls from Primary 7 and Senior 4 on a project about waste awareness and reduction.
Day one was getting to know each other, recycled paper making, creating decorative flowers out of plastic bottles and sharing ideas. It was decided we would make a bench to demonstrate the sustainable building method of using plastic bottle in place of brick.

Now i’d never done this either, but by the power of a Google search and a few emails to a very helpful architect friend anything is possible.
It was a busy schedule as we were attempting to make the bench in one week.

Please click on the images to see larger versions (long upload time means small photos unfortunately).

Monday started with P7’s making a big effort at bottle collecting from around Kagadi town. We had spoken to schools, businesses and restaurants the week before to save them for us. Still, we collected about 50% from the side of the road.

Collecting bottles from Kagadi town

Followed by an equally good effort collecting clay from a swamp area at the bottom of hill local farmers hill in the afternoon.

Collecting clay from a local's swamp land

Unfortunately the monsoon rain had come at lunch time today so a team effort was needed to get us home again…


The next important job was to pack the waste 500ml plastic bottles with soil until they felt solid. Effectively turning the bottles into bricks. This was a long process which everyone had to take part in over the week. It meant plenty of good time for chatting.

more packing bottles
Packing the plastic bottles with soil

Three quarters of the way there! Over 900 bottles were needed in total

There were 300 full bottles lying on the floor, but we still need more...

Next came debating the design and marking it out with sticks and string to dig out the soil for foundations. The groups decided build it would be interesting to use the eye shape from the URDT logo.

Planning the designDigging out the foundations

At this point the Vocational Institute students took over to make sure we had a solid concrete foundation to make sure the bench is lasting.

Foundation laying is apparently mens work

Day four was spent getting everything prepared for building, bottles packed and washed, clay mixed into a smooth consistency – turns out feet are the best tool for this!

Preparing the clay

All hands on clay – Once we starting building the layers, using clay mixed with sand as the binding mortar, the bench took shape very quickly. Construction designs for houses made from bottles include tying string in a network which attaches all the bottles together for reinforcement. We decided this was not necessary for a structure only 50cm high.

All hands on clayHands are the best tool for sticky clay

Demonstrating a good clay throwing technique. This was by far the best way for getting the clay between the bottles and not just stuck to your hands.

Good clay throwing technique

Bottle were arranged in rows according to the colour of the lids for design effect.

Colour coordinated rows Making good progress

Laying the final bottle.

Laying final bottle

The sides were rendered using a mix of lime and sand, these are more natural and cheaper materials than cement.

rendering rending the side

And the top was finished off with cement for a smooth and hopefully strong water resistant material.

Cement finish on top

Washing the lids and bottoms of the bottles was the finishing touch, so it is clear that the bench is made from bottles.

Finishing touches, washing the bottle bottoms

And of course a touch of the school colour, and an info sign for people to learn about how and why the bench was made as they sit and enjoy.

touch of colour Photo0107

Time to celebrate the finished bench and a good use of 900 waste bottles.

Senior 4's celebrate Team photo

Thanks to the boys from URDT's Vocational Training Institute

 I’ll be checking back with URDT after the next rainy season to see how well this bench is standing up to the Ugandan elements, so check back to see how the design fares.

These are some inspiring and useful websites I used to aid the construction process,

 Inspiration Green – includes a house build near Kampala, Uganda
Connect Green – this one includes some you-tube videos, although I never had good enough internet connection to watch them.
How to build a house from PET bottles – useful images of the process of reinforcing the wall with string.
Eco-Tec proports to be the inventor of this bottle building technology but I never used their website as it is in Spanish and I couldn’t get the translation to load. Looks like there are research reports to download but not a construction ‘how to’.


3 responses to “How to Build a Plastic Bottle Bench in 7 days, a project with URDT Girls School

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