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Rishi Sankhla

IWB Blogger

Rashmi, The Eco-Friendly Architect, Is Changing The Way Rural Toilets Are Being Built

  • IWB Post
  •  April 19, 2019

What comes to your mind when you think about constructing a building? Probably, bricks, cement, sand, masons and a male supervisor. Well, it is not the same with Rashmi Tiwari.

A project in her final year, that made Rashmi pass with flying colours, has now become a passion for her to do something for the society. Unlike other architects, who think of building skyscrapers and huge buildings, Rashmi opted to build toilets. But this is not it, she is building these toilets in a unique way. Her technique is solving two problems with a single solution. Instead of using bricks, which is the basic material to build any structure, Rashmi is using PET plastic bottles.

Surprised? So were we. Our inquisitiveness led us to a conversation with The Namaha Group architect, Rashmi Tiwari from Hyderabad, and she described it all.

Excerpts from the conversation:

How did using plastic bottle come to mind, why not any other material?

We live in a “PLASTIC WORLD” with plastic bottles being ubiquitous. Somehow we have gotten ourselves into a situation where we think it is okay to use disposables, hardly knowing that it is the root cause of health hazard to animals and mankind. In other words, simply dumping plastic away does not make it disappear but results in plastic pollution. So I thought of taking them for a better use, which will not only solve the problem of plastic pollution but also provide toilets to the society, which is another basic need that should be addressed at the earliest.

Being an architect, I wanted to do my bit for the society. While I was doing my masters, my subject was environmental design and that was the time it clicked me that why not use PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) bottles instead of bricks. This also reduces the cost of construction.

How reliable is it to use plastic bottles instead of bricks?

To make sure that the bottles are intact in shape, we fill mud in it. After much research and experiments, I can assure that plastic bottles are 20-25 percent stronger than bricks. Suppose you take a brick and drop it on the ground from some height, it will break. Same is not the case with plastic bottles. If you fill these bottles with mud and drop it on the ground, nothing will happen to it. Another advantage of using bottles is that in future if you want to dismantle the structure, these bottles can be reused. When you dismantle any building made of bricks, you cannot reuse the bricks.

Bottles once filled with mud is equal to the weight of a brick. A wall constructed using bricks has 9-inch width maximum. Whereas, a bottle is 11 inches in height and after plaster, the complete wall is almost of 13-14 inches. This is definitely thicker that allows a bigger load bearing compared to a nine-inch wall. The structures constructed using plastic bottles can survive for as long as 70-80 years.

What technology is required to make sure that the mud filled in these bottles does not create any air bubbles, giving space for the mud to settle down?

This is a major challenge and I personally check twice or thrice to make sure it is tightly compact. After filling the bottles, I recheck it by putting a stick into it and making sure that no air bubbles are formed. We have to be very careful while filling the mud. We also have to be very careful while placing the bottles. While the mason is placing them, I keep a check that they are arranged properly as these bottles are slippery and tend to shift due to its round surface. This process is though time-consuming, nonetheless, it reduces the plastic pollution as well as the cost.

Construction of toilet

How did you impact the lives of women with your project?

I have completed two projects and the second one was more emotional. I built a toilet in a government school Anganwadi for small children. I saw them going down the ramp in open, finding a place behind an auto or a van. All of them are very small children coming from poor families. They were really thankful to me for making a toilet in their school. Even the parents came and thanked me for it.

There was a small girl who has a hole in her heart, and there are also many students who do not have parents. When I see these children, I feel content that I have done something to help them.

Children going out for toilet

Even if enough toilets are built by the government, people don’t use them. What is the reason for this?

Government schools do have toilets, but firstly they are not sufficient and secondly they are not well maintained. Students prefer to go home rather than using the toilets at school. Also, another major problem is the scarcity of water. They only get water for two hours in the morning from 9-11. To find a solution for this problem, I made an attached water tank with the toilet in my second project.

Final Structure after construction

After successfully completing two projects, are you getting any more projects, or is the government taking any initiative to help you?

70% of the money was invested from my pocket. Some of my friends helped me in the collection of funds. Sarpanch of the village sent a trolley full of mud for construction. But frankly speaking, nobody is taking any initiative to come forward and fund the project. While some are even ready to invest in it, but they say, complete the work first and only then the entire payment will be released. This means initially I have to make all the investment for buying the raw materials, giving wages to the workers, the transportation, everything. My mother has also been supporting me, but getting investment for the project is a little difficult.

Tell us about other green projects that you want to work on in future?

After I completed my first project and the news was spread that I am using PET bottles, many came up to me with different ideas. Some were making furniture using plastic bottles, but I do not want to get into all of this. I want to make something which will make a difference in the society. Like even if furniture using plastic bottles are not made, it is ok, but making toilets is fulfilling a major need of the society, without which life is difficult.

Apart from building toilets, I am thinking of making single rooms with attached toilets for poor people. There are many people who cannot afford to have a home and live on roadsides. I want to build houses in slum areas using my technique.

Conversation with Rashmi left me wondering what wonders one can do with knowledge and passion to achieve the goal. Rashmi used her knowledge to solve two problems with a single solution. She also believes that this initiative taken by her can also raise a number of employment opportunities. From picking up used plastic bottles to filling them up with mud, a lot of employment can be generated.

The eco-friendly architect is having trouble finding investors for her project. If anyone is interested in helping her or want to be a part of her endevour in any way, you can reach her at namahadesignassociates@gmail.com.

This article was first published on February 17, 2018. 

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