50 years ago, Alfred Heineken had an idea, making a beer bottle that could be reused into a brick. After visiting Curacao, he “was struck by two things: the beaches were littered with beer bottles - many bearing his name - and there was a shortage of affordable building materials.” This was the spark of the idea of the WOBO (World Bottle) bottle, that after use would become a brick, as a material for affordable housing. 100.000 bottles were produced, however, the idea did not come forward, there was internal resistance in the company and the project was abandoned.
Design for reuse, a common term today, but quite forward thinking by then.
It is interesting to relate the same design question to similar products, and however beer bottles might still be an issue, the PET bottle, or plastic bottle, has become a big problem in many parts or the world. In the U.S. more than 80% of recyclable plastic bottles (2010) end up in landfills instead of being recycled. In addition, according to ocean conservancy organization plastic bottles (and also bottle caps) are significant part of the pollution in the oceans and endanger the marine life.
There are valid initiatives aiming to ban the one-time-use plastic water bottles, reducing the number of this bottles and their environmental impact. However, plastic bottles are not only a package for water but for many other products.
What if Mr. Heineken’s 1963 idea switched from glass bottles to plastic bottles, designing them for reuse.
Today, plastic bottles are not designed for reuse but are already reused in multiple ways, also as building materials, by the creativity of people – either by necessity or by sustainable desire. They can become walls, roofs, lights, even water solar heating systems.
I imagine what is the potential for the redesign of PET bottles today, they could stop becoming an environmental problem, but a solution to affordable housing for instance.