Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations

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Recycling Plastic Bottles: An Inexpensive and Sustainable Way to Provide Light

Light for previously unlit homes.

Light for previously unlit homes.

It’s powerful enough to light up a home. But more than that, it’s environmentally friendly, inexpensive and easy to make.”


By Linn Smith

April 7, 2014—“What do you get with the sun and an old plastic bottle filled with water and a little bleach? You get a 55 watt solar bulb that refracts sunlight! It’s powerful enough to light up a home. But more than that, it’s environmentally friendly, inexpensive and easy to make.”–

Environmentally Friendly Lighting

A Liter of Light is a non-profit organization started by Illac Diaz in 2011 in the Philippines, with a goal to provide affordable and sustainable inside light for people living without it. In Manila, he became aware of people living in slum shacks with no windows and no electricity–basically living in darkness inside their small dwellings. Diaz left his job to study alternative architecture and urban planning at MIT in the U.S. where he came across the bottle technology developed by Alfredo Moser in 2002. He returned to his homeland in the Philippines, where his project has grown and provided environmentally friendly, inexpensive lighting for thousands.

Liter of Light

A Liter of Light is installed on the rooftop of unlit dwellings.

Making a Recycled Plastic Bottle Light

Liter of Light recycles liter plastic bottles, the kind used for carbonated drinks or water, filling them with water and a little bleach to prevent the growth of algae. These bottles are fit into the roof of the dwellings, with half the bottle in and half out, applying a sealant around the hole in the roof to prevent leakage. What is produced is a light that fills a small dwelling due to the refraction of the sunlight, which bends the light waves when they enter the water in the bottle. The water causes the light to slow down and bend the light rays towards all sections inside the dwelling. Without the water in the bottle the light would be just a concentrated beam shining on one spot in the house–but with the added water, it becomes multi-directional, like a light bulb! It delivers about as much light inside the home as a 40-60 watt bulb, spreading the light throughout the dwelling. These lights can last up to five years!

Training Locals for Light Installation

Liter of Light provides opportunities for locals to learn plastic bottle installation, as the the organization has set up local training centers. Locals who want to become small business entrepreneurs, learn how to install the bottle lights and make a small profit. This method is kick-starting a grassroots green economy in very poor sections of the cities. Within months of starting the project, one person had installed 15,000 solar bottles in 20 cities in the Philippines. In less than a year, 200,000 bottle bulbs were installed! The goal is one million by the end of 2015.

Plastic Bottle Solar Lights

Plastic bottle nightlights make a village safe for walking at night.

Plastic Bottle Solar Nightlights

Another branch of the Liter of Light organization is installing nightlights, which are made up of a simple circuit, a battery, four LED lights, a small solar panel and, again, the recycled plastic liter bottle. The bottle houses the LED lights with a small solar panel screwed into the top. This provides 3 watts of light that will light up an area of about 15 sq. meters (161 sq. feet). The circuits switch on and off in the presence or absence of daylight. A pcv pipe, bamboo or wooden pole can turn this small apparatus into a street light. The solar nightlight can store up to 10 hours of light through the attached solar panels.

Diaz says, “If you teach enough people how to make solar lights, they can keep their communities safe.Three to five watts is all that’s needed to light an entire village. One watt times a million people who do it could be more powerful than a large-scale power plant.” Today there are Liter of Light chapters in 53 countries with 250,000 bottle lights and approximately 15,000 solar night lights installed.

Instructions for both the day and night lights can be found online.


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Plastics and Bioplastics: What You Need to Know

Bioplastics will put nutrients back into the soil.

Bioplastics will decompose back into the soil quickly.

“Bioplastics are derived from renewable biomass sources that are living, or recently living organisms–mostly plant sources.”

By Linn Smith
April 1, 2015—-There is a great need on our planet to decrease the use of non-degradeable plastics and further the research of bioplastics, replacing the current use of petroleum based plastics with environmentally friendly ones. Bioplastics have been around for decades. Henry Ford made auto parts out of corn and soybean products for his Model T. Interest in Bioplastics have fluctuated over the years with oil prices.

To make petroleum based plastics, which makes up most plastics used today, the petroleum goes through a chemical process that combines smaller molecules into a large chain like molecule, often with other substances added, many being harmful to our health. Plastics use approximately 8% of the yearly global oil production.

Decomposition of Plastics

Plastics may take up to 1,000 years to decompose in our landfills, while leaking pollutants into the soil and water. A plastic fork can stay around for hundreds of years. According to a Columbia University study, at least 34 million tons of plastic waste is discarded each year and less than 7% of this waste is recycled. And by now, most have heard of the giant floating islands of plastic in the ocean, approximately 100 million tons—so far!

Bioplastics are environmentally friendly.

Bioplastics are made from living things such as corn, soy or the shells of shrimp.

Bioplastics from Vegetable Sources

Bioplastics are derived from renewable biomass sources that are living, or recently living organisms–mostly plant sources. Bioplastics can come from agricultural by-products including vegetable oils, corn starch, and pea starch. Researchers have also used rice to make plastic, which is strong and thermal resistant, but in the past the starch based products have decomposed too quickly for broad use.

Bioplastics from Chitin

Harvard’s Wyss Institute has created bioplastics made from chitin found in the shells of shrimp, crabs, lobsters, most of which would be discarded after harvesting the meat. Chitin is the second most abundant organic material on earth and is also the main material in the hard shells of most insects. Bioplastics made from this source are tough, transparent and renewable and can be made into complex shapes for mass production. They are better for the environment and produce fewer greenhouse gases than petroleum-based plastics. When these products are discarded they break down within a few weeks and release nutrients back into the soil for plant growth. The life cycle of this plastic is renewable and environmentally beneficial, whereas plastics made from petroleum, once discarded, may take centuries to decompose.

Petroleum Plastics and Embodied Energy

A study from Columbia University’s Earth Engineering Center in 2011 analyzed the embodied energy of plastics. “The amount of energy contained in the millions of tons of plastic in the U.S. landfills is equivalent to 36.7 million tons of coal, 139 million barrels of oil or 783 billion cubic ft of natural gas. If this plastic was recovered and converted into liquid fuel, it could power all the cars in Los Angeles for a year–and the fact is, there is now technology to do it.”

So, what happens to all that plastic? Most of it is still out there, sitting in landfills or floating somewhere on earth! If we, as consumers refused to use petroleum based plastics, production would stop!

Bioplastics: Saving Our Environment for Future Generations