I’ll be the first to admit falling victim to a stereotypical idea from time to time, jumping on a bandwagon before adequately understanding why I’m doing so. The idea that green solutions come hand in hand with steep price tags, is one such “train” I’ve unfortunately found myself on in the past. Lucky for me, I had a revelation of sorts on the subject a few summers back, while I was backpacking in Europe with a friend. Sitting in the common area at our hostel in Florence, sipping Bellini’s in a vain attempt to stave off the summer heat, we struck up a conversation with the woman working the hostel’s bar. Arriving in some manner or other at the subject of Burning Man (which I had tickets for at the time), we learned that our bartender’s brother was also headed there, traveling all the way from the Philippines to create an art exhibit aimed at fostering awareness for the non-profit he was involved with, called Isang Litrong Liwanag (being Filipino she gave us the local name) or, A Liter of Light. As she explained the technology behind the green solution centered non-profit, I found myself shocked at how simple, low cost, and sustainable, green technology could really be. Cue revelation.
Turning Waste into Solar Lights
MyShelter Foundation’s ‘Liter of Light’ project is an ideal example of an innovative, affordable green technology that is sustainable, and tackling a big social issue in many countries – lack of electricity. The Liter of Light project uses recycled plastic bottles (often 1.5 liter water/soda bottles) filled with water and a little bleach to create “solar bulbs”. When pushed through the roof of a home and held in place by some sheet metal and sealant, these bottles refract light and can emit the same amount of light as a 40W-60W incandescent light bulb. The bulbs provide houses with a zero-carbon omitting daytime alternative to using electric light bulbs or hydrocarbon burning (gas, kerosene…) light sources. Each solar bulb is estimated to last 5 years before needing replacement, making it an immeasurably more sustainable solution than an electric light bulb of comparable light.
Founded by Illac Diaz, the MyShelter Foundation’s Liter of Light project was launched in the Philippines in April 2011. In Manila’s poorest district solar bulbs were installed in hundreds of homes using a “local entrepreneur” business model, where locals from a community earn a small income for their work assembling and installing solar bulbs. The brilliance of this project is its simplicity and sustainability. Using few materials that are durable, cheap, readable accessible (soda bottles otherwise trash in slums, taken for granted!) and easily installed, poor communities who are often without electricity all together can light their homes. The Liter of Light movement has grown to light up 28,000 homes in metro Manila alone, bringing light to 78,000 people and is now being instituted globally, with a presence in India, Indonesia and even Switzerland. By the end of 2015, MyShelter Foundation hopes to install one million bottle lights around the world.
Green Technology for Everyone
Despite organizations like the MyShelter Foundation, the unfortunate reality of “going green” right now is that it is still (for the most part) only accessible to those who can afford it. Perhaps the bigger sin though, is not that green technology is often accompanied by a steep price tag – but that it is associated with one. Whether it’s instituting greener practices or technologies in our home, or looking to come up with new solutions, we may be stifling green innovation simply because of a preconception. As MyShelter Foundation and the Liter of Light project demonstrates, green technology does not need to be expensive. With a little ingenuity we can find sustainable, long term, green solutions, but the first step is likely breaking down the stereotype that green technology = $$$. Check out their YouTube video here.