Building Houses from Plastic, This Champion of Underprivileged

DUBAI - “The women of Paraguay are my biggest source of inspiration” said Elsa Zalvidar, an innovative social activist from the poverty-stricken countryside of Paraguay, a land locked country in the heart of South America.

by Dhanusha Gokulan

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Published: Mon 24 Nov 2008, 1:15 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 7:23 PM

Elsa Zalvidar.—KT Photoby S. NairElsa’s brainchild of using Loofah- a cucumber like vegetable that is dried to yield a scratchy sponge for use as abrasive skin scrubber- with other vegetable matter like husks from corn and caranday palm trees, along with recycled plastic, to form strong, lightweight panels which can be used to construct furniture and houses.

Elsa’s simple and innovative idea caught the attention of the panel of Rolex Awards for Enterprise making her one of the five laureates for the year 2008.

“I have been working for and with the needy women of Paraguay since 1992 with an Non profitable organization. 30 percent of the women sustain the family and most of them start working at a very young age” said Elsa.

It is this plight of the women of Paraguay that enthused Elsa to team up with Pedro Pardos, an industrial engineer, to search for new ways to use recycled plastic and vegetable material to construct inexpensive panels for wall and roofing for building houses. She realised that if the first step to improvising the lives of the poor was increasing their income, secondly was to help them find decent housing , which would dramatically raise their living standards.

After continuous efforts the panels were made by combining a melting unit, mixer, extruder and cutting unit, the machine can produce- a half metre wide panel of 120 metres long. Depending on the exact mix of plastics and fibres, as well as the thickness of the panel, the composite can have varying amounts of flexibility, weight and insulating qualities, making it adaptable for varied construction needs.

With about 30,000 families in Paraguay not having adequate housing facilities the creation of the panels for housing came as a blessing to the poorer houses of Paraguay.

Elsa said, “This project has many different kinds of impact on the environment. Most significantly, we’ll recycle the mountain of garbage generated by plastics. And because we’re using fibres that are completely renewable, we create jobs and stop using timber for construction. These panels can be made in a matter of days and the houses can be set up quickly and easily.”

With two prototype houses have already mean made and the process will go faster once she receives the prize money of 100,000 dollars from the Rolex Enterprise Award.

Dhanusha Gokulan
Dhanusha Gokulan

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