Have you got the bottle?

23 Jan 2012

Eco-innovation brings lights to thousands of homes in developing communities

For most of us, living without electricity is unimaginable. The computer or smartphone you are reading this on is more than likely powered by electricity, as is the light above your head. And that cup of tea on your desk? Probably made from water boiled in an electric kettle. But for an incredible percentage of the world’s population, electricity is not so much an unappreciated part of daily life but a luxury item to be rationed. One area where this is highly apparent is in the Manila slums of the Philippines, every square metre taken up by the ramshackle wooden and corrugated tin shelters that the locals call home.

Manila is home to upwards of two million people, many of which either can’t afford to use electricity or are forced to limit their usage to short bursts each day. Power is expensive here and as the majority of homes don’t have windows their inhabitants are plunged into blackness 24 hours a day. Severely limited finances mean that residents have no choice but to spend most of the daylight hours outside, relying on illegal supplies of electricity or suffering huge bills that they have little hope of paying back. This situation is not confined to the Philippines and can be witnessed in developing communities around the world.

An initiative by MyShelter Foundation with students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology looks to provide a sustainable and affordable solution to this global problem, transforming used plastic bottles into lighting devices for as little as $2. ‘A Liter for Light’ takes old plastic bottles, fills them with water and a capful of bleach - to prevent the build-up of algae - and embeds them in a piece of corrugated metal. This device is then inserted into a carefully-cut hole in the roof and sealed to prevent leaking during heavy rainfall. The bright Philippines sun is refracted through the water and penetrates the room below, illuminating it with the equivalent of a 50 watt bulb.

This affordable, eco-friendly and low-tech scheme is shining a light on the importance of innovative thinking in developing communities and drawing much needed attention to those in dire need of inexpensive alternatives to everyday luxuries. ‘A Liter for Light’ looks to illuminate a million homes across the Philippines by the end of 2012 and has recruited the help of local prisoners at Makati City Jail to reach this goal. The short film below demonstrates the incredible difference this inspirational scheme is making to so many lives. Skip to 1.05 for an amazing before and after shot.

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