How Volunteers Use Recycled Plastic Bottles To Light Up Impoverished Countries

A Brazilian mechanic invented the "Liter of Light," a bottle that's filled with water and bleach to illuminate homes in developing countries. Not only can it spread the light out by using the sun, but it can capture that energy for later use.


May 24 2019, Updated 3:08 a.m. ET

A unique project that features a used plastic bottle and solar panels has made green energy much more affordable in poorer countries. MyShelter Foundation has created the Liter of Light, which gives people light indoors during the daytime and can also be used at night with stored energy from the sun. The project kicked off in the Philippines and now spans 15 different countries.

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These bottles are filled with water and a few tablespoons of bleach. The bleach keeps algae from building up in the bottle so that it can last for up to five years. They’re placed in the holes of galvanized steel sheets that are located on top of shelters. It provides light for structures that don’t have any windows for the sunlight to come in.

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Having a bottle instead of just a hole in the roof provides lighting for the entire room instead of where the opening is located. Light refracts in the water to create the similar effect of a standard light bulb. The bottle can mimic up to a 60-watt bulb.

The bottle also provides protection from the environment, such as keeping rain out or any unwanted insects. Everything is sealed together with glue that’s available in the area. This also provides protection for the bottle itself so it keeps from degrading over time.

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Alfred Moser, a Brazilian mechanic, was the man behind installing them in the beginning. The idea came from experimenting with a plastic bottle when he needed to find a way to spark a fire on grass. They were cheap to make, so he only charged a little bit for the installation process. 

He highlighted the benefits of the light in an article from Gibby Zobel of BBC, saying, "It's a divine light. God gave the sun to everyone, and light is for everyone. Whoever wants it saves money. You can't get an electric shock from it, and it doesn't cost a penny."

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The MyShelter Foundation discovered this option in their process of building houses from recycled materials. When figuring out the lighting situation and putting in windows, they stumbled upon Moser’s method and joined forces back in 2011. It came nearly nine years after Moser discovered it.

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An addition to the process has been a micro solar panel inside of the bottle. This allows the storage of the sun’s rays and they can illuminate dark areas for up to 10 hours. These were invented after a typhoon wiped things out in Tacloban, as well as in the Philippines. It also provides a great alternative to using candles. 

Solar panels themselves are made by the people in conjunction with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) of Tacloban. All it took was a few days to start illuminating the damaged town, making it much safer to walk at night.


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