Turning trash into building material

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    Mountains of trash threaten Mayan lake

Mountains of trash threaten Mayan lake 00:56

By The Next List staff, CNN

(CNN) -- Susanne Heisse is founder of Pura Vida, a movement for alternative trash management in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Her innovation: the eco-brick.

In its simplest form, the eco-brick is a plastic bottle stuffed with inorganic trash. Stuffed to capacity, these bottles are of sufficient integrity to be used as building blocks for homes and schools throughout Central America.

With the help of the Peace Corps and charities like Hug It Forward, this deceptively simple building innovation is now spreading throughout the world.

Heisse, a former East German political prisoner turned fashion designer, moved to Lake Atitlan 15 years ago. Enchanted by the beauty of the area -- and the Mayan people who call it home -- she soon recognized that trash, mountains and mountains of it, was threatening the lake's very existence.

    Heisse first seized on plastic bottles as a repository for trash simply as a means to clean up the area. But when Hurricane Stan decimated her village in 2005, Heisse realized the bottles could be used as a construction material. With dozens of families in need of new homes, victims and relief workers were quick to adopt the eco-brick, building five homes within weeks of the disaster.

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    Today the eco-brick has been used to build more than 200 schools and countless homes throughout Central America. Constructions have also been reported in Africa and Southeast Asia. This summer, two volunteers from Ladakh, India, met with Susanne and the charity Hug It Forward for a first-hand tutorial on how to build similar schools in the Himalayas.

    Cheap, easy to make and environmentally friendly, the eco-brick could be a common-sense solution for almost any community. And that’s what puts Susanne Heisse on The Next List.

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