Turning Recycled Beverages into New Homes

A construction project in Malaysia is turning recycled aluminium into new homes, all while raising awareness of recycling.
12 May, 2017
Malaysian student Siew Zhi Zhou took a hands-on approach to sustainability, with roofing tiles made from recycled beverage containers.
The construction project was sponsored by the CAREton Project, an initiative of Tetra Pak Malaysia. Tetra Pak, part of a global food and beverage packaging company based in Sweden, designed the project to raise awareness about recycling practices and benefits, and to show off the value of recycled products of its kind.
Images: Tetra Pak
Tetra Pak says that the mix of its beverage cartons is 75 percent paper, 20 percent plastic and 5 percent aluminium. At the recycling facility, a processor separates the paper from the plastic and the aluminium. The paper pulp is used elsewhere, while the plastic and aluminium are sent to a hot press facility. There, it is processed into flat panel boards; when grooves are inserted into panels, they become roofing tiles. Those materials are what volunteers, including the UCSI students, use to build houses for those in need.
Image: Tetra Pak
Each roofing tile measures about 2.7 by 1.2 meters, and requires 7,247 recycled drink packs to make. The resulting material is lightweight, water and heat resistant, and highly durable, the company says.

The program was first launched in 2012 in partnership with Nestlé, and has incrementally advanced in scale. By 2013, Tetra Pak put together enough roofing materials for 10 homes built for the indigenous Orang Asli people, in partnership with the EPIC organization.

Many Orang Asli villagers live in shacks or under tarpaulins, the company explains. "EPIC Homes provides them with permanent homes – simple, modular buildings that are flexible and adaptable. EPIC works with village chiefs to identify families in need, and then with those families to design their own house, right down to the color," they add.
Tetra Pak Malaysia team. Source: Tetra Pak
In return, Orang Asli recipients are expected to help out not only with their own build, but also with future builds in their village. By 2014, the company exceeded that season's goal and collected 7.2 million beverage containers, which was enough to make 1,000 roofing tiles to outfit 20 new homes.

In 2015, after floods displaced more than 100,000 people in the eastern part of Malaysia, Tetra Pak shifted its efforts there and recycled enough cartons to make 1,150 tiles for a total of 25 new homes. Terrynz Tan, the company's environment director, said it was a new way to continue the mission.
According to EPIC, there are about 12,000 of the Orang Asli living in substandard homes across Malaysia. What they do with the recycled aluminium roof tiles, wall panels and other materials is build modular homes based on standardized cubes that are nine square meters each. This allows them to modify the building sizes for the appropriate family fit, at the same time that it keeps costs down and allows for simpler materials, logistics and construction. So far, the record for building an EPIC house is three days.
Orang Asli child. Photograph: amrufm/Flickr
Yet it's not just about the houses. In order to support the program, Tetra Pak partners have placed 470 recycling collection points across Malaysia. Since 2005, when the company introduced its first container recycling program, the capture rate has gone from nearly nothing to more than 28 percent in 2014.
Banner image: Tetra Pak/WikiMedia