Bottles bring hope for poor

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 July, 2010, 12:00am

Underprivileged families in poor areas of Thailand are being helped to build their own homes by an imaginative programme launched by Cerebos. The company, which is probably best known as the manufacturer of health food supplement Brand's chicken essence, is planning to construct cheap, but functional homes made primarily from used glass bottles.

The Hope in a Bottle programme is being done in co-operation with Habitat for Humanity, the international non-governmental organisation dedicated to eliminating poverty and helping people to have something more than just a basic shelter.

The project will also contribute towards environmental protection and slowing the effects of climate change. 'Compared with using cement, building homes with bottles can cut construction costs and reduce carbon dioxide emissions,' says Timothy Chow Chi-hung, general manager of Cerebos (HK).

The company is also working with Singapore's Ngee Ann Polytechnic Centre of Innovation (Environmental and Water Technology), which has pioneered technology to convert glass bottles into building materials. The centre has conducted extensive research and is now applying the results to convert waste that would normally end up in a landfill, or incineration plant, into a valuable new resource.

'This project is a wonderful opportunity to further our work,' says centre director Tam Li Phin. 'Recycling used glass bottles to build houses is an innovative idea that also helps sustainable living and conserving the environment.'

Cerebos employees are collecting as many bottles as possible and arranging for their transport to Thailand. In Hong Kong, 58 residential estates have been signed up to participate in the collection campaign. It is expected that more will take part as inquiries are still coming in.

The plan is to start building houses in the poor districts of Thailand in October. Cerebos staff will visit the areas and, all being well, maybe even meet some of the first residents.

Though Thailand is often regarded as a developing country, with a widening band of middle-income earners, many people still live in difficult circumstances, especially in rural areas of the northeast, far north and south.

'Migration from rural areas places a strain on the supply of affordable land in Bangkok and other urban areas,' says Peter Witton, communication director of Habitat for Humanity International's Asia-Pacific office. 'City life may mean job opportunities, but it also can mean living in crowded conditions in informal settlements and slums, with all the attendant problems.'

He points out that people in rural areas may have more space, but their homes can be unsafe and poorly made.

'There is much still to do and organisations such as ours are responding to the challenge, supported by Thai and foreign partners, volunteers, donors and supporters,' he says.

Home help

The target for Cerebos is to collect 300,000 used Brand's bottles from Hong Kong and around the region

The initial plan is to build at least 20 houses for poor people in Thailand

Apart from providing basic material for construction, the company will also make a cash pledge of HK$800,000 towards building more houses