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Soda Bottle Solar Bulbs Bring Light to Thousands in the Philippines

  • Simone Orendain

Sheila Royeras admires the soda bottle solar bulbs that were installed in her shanty home. The bulbs are made out of a soda bottle, purified water and some bleach. San Juan City, Metropolitan Manila, Philippines, November 18, 2011.

Sheila Royeras admires the soda bottle solar bulbs that were installed in her shanty home. The bulbs are made out of a soda bottle, purified water and some bleach. San Juan City, Metropolitan Manila, Philippines, November 18, 2011.

Thousands of small houses in low-income areas of the Philippines’ capital region are receiving ultra cheap, energy-efficient light bulbs this week. The installations are part of a broader push to install the bulbs made from plastic soda bottles in one million homes by 2012.

Sheila Royeras says she, her husband, her mother and two children spend much of their time in the dark - even during they day. Their tiny house sits less than a meter from a two-story building under construction and among close, cramped units. Natural light comes in only through the small front door. They cannot afford to use electric lights during the day.

On a recent morning, volunteer workers outfitted Royeras’ house with solar light bulbs made out of used plastic soda bottles, some purified water and bleach.

The workers cut a circle exactly the size of the bottle’s diameter into the corrugated metal roof. The one liter bottle, filled with water and two caps-full of bleach- to keep it clean and clear- is placed inside the hole, with half of the bottle poking through the roof to the inside of the house. The bottle stays in place with sealant - to keep rain out - and a small metal brace that is hammered into the roof. The liquid inside refracts sunlight and disperses about 55-watts of light into the house below. The bulbs have a five-year life.

At the end of the installation, the 15-to-20 square meter house is illuminated by three solar bulbs. Speaking in Tagalog, Royeras says having the free lights will bring a lot in savings.

Royeras says she is much happier because she expects the next electric bill to be quite a bit lower. She laughs and says she will be able to buy food for her family.

Illac Diaz, who heads the non-profit MyShelter Foundation, which is heading up this project, says in the tropics poor people live in cramped, darkened areas sealed off from rain and the searing sun. Diaz says residents should opt for this kind of bulb, instead of relying on candles or other potential fire hazards.

“It’s safer. It’s healthier," says Diaz. "It’s brighter and the funny thing is the light bulb actually comes from the place you’d least expect it, which is the trash bin. So it’s the cheapest light bulb in the world.”

Government officials say the Philippines has the highest electricity rates in Asia. Diaz says this low-tech alternative to energy efficient light bulbs will save customers an average of $10 per month on their electric bills.

The light bulb project is also set up to help poor people gain employment. The foundation currently pays a small fee to scavengers who collect the bottles and assemble and install the bulbs. Diaz says some are making a business of it.

“Once we give the technology to grassroots entrepreneurs to build it," said Diaz. "There is no limit to where it goes.”

Diaz says he has helped set up offices in Mexico, Columbia and India, where other non-government agencies have started the lighting project.

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