Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sustainable Building Materials In Paraguay

(article found at

For many decades the forests of Paraguay have suffered from the effects of severe deforestation throughout much of the country; so much so that now only an estimated 10% of the once densely vegetated land remains forested. In combination with this and a recent decline in the economic state of the country, some people are searching for alternative resources that can be used to sustainably fill the void left in their local economies by the shrinking forests and scarce amount of available resources. 

One woman who lives in the Caaguazu area, named Elsa, has begun to utilize a local crop, the loofah, to help supplement, and perhaps one day replace, wood as the primary building material used in the construction of their modest Paraguayan homes. Loofahs are an easy to grow fruit which can be eaten, dried and used as shower scrubs, cosmetic sponges, insoles, mats, and apparently even slippers! Elsa helped to educate the local people about the benefits of growing loofahs, and soon the local women were growing a large amount of high quality loofah fruits which were being exported or used for a wide range of different purposes by the local people. 

Although they were producing an excellent product, a large portion of the material being produced ended up going to the local landfill - In an effort to cut down on waste and make the process more efficient, Elsa joined forces with an engineer named Pedro Padros, to try to find some way to utilize the large amount of fibrous material from the plant which had previously been going to waste. They decided to use reground plastics in conjunction with the plant material to produce a cheap and durable composite building material. 

Following a number of trails and experiments, and aided by a grant from Paraguay's environmental ministry, they were eventually able to develop a flexible, lightweight, and recyclable panel which could be produced locally, and used in the construction of homes at a fraction of the cost required to build the same home from wood. Also, color can be added to the material during the mixing process, which means the owner will never have to spend time and money painting their home. According to the article above, the production costs started at $6 per square meter, and has since been cut in half. The ultimate goal of this project is to provide cheap and simple, yet lasting and effective housing which could be easily constructed with just a few short days of work. 

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