Lightbulb Moment

How one man's simple innovation for recycling plastic bottles helped some of the world's poorest communities.

In 2002 a Brazilian mechanic came up with a ridiculously simple way of reusing plastic bottles to help some of the world's poorest people light their homes.

In the city of Uberaba in the south of Brazil, Alfredo Moser had his “Light-bulb” moment during one of his country's many power cuts.

The mechanic and his friends noticed that only the city's factories still had power during these blackouts, the homes of ordinary people would be plunged into darkness and small local businesses were unable to operate.

To help pass the time Alfredo and his friends started discussing ways of raising the alarm in the event of an emergency, if for example a small plane were to crash during a blackout and no matches were available.

Alfredo's boss came up with the idea that a plastic bottle filled with water could be used as a lens to magnify the sun's light and be used to start a signal-fire in much the same way as one can use a magnifying glass.

The conversation stuck in Alfredo's mind and in his free time he began experimenting with plastic bottles, filling them with water and observing how they caused light to refract. Soon he had perfected his innovation: Bottle lamps.

By filling a bottle with water, adding a little bleach to stop the formation of algae, and installing it in the roof, Alfredo Moser was able to light a room using only the light from the sun refracting through the water in his bottles.

He simply drills a hole in the roof, inserts the bottle and seals it in place with polyester resin to stop any leaks and he instantly has a light source as powerful as a regular light-bulb. An engineer that came to measure the bottle lamps effectiveness told Alfredo that they were emitting, depending on the strength of the sun, refracted light equivalent to a 40 to 60 watt light bulb. Also, as his lamps are solar-powered they have zero carbon footprint compared to a conventional light-bulb's carbon footprint of about 200kg of CO2 per year..

Soon he had installed his bottle lamps in the homes of his neighbours and a local supermarket. In an interview with the BBC he said:

"There was one man who installed the lights and within a month he had saved enough to pay for the essential things for his child, who was about to be born. Can you imagine? "

But that was just the beginning...

In 2011, in the Philippines, the MyShelter foundation began using Moser's recycled bottle lamp method in their projects. MyShelter aims to provide affordable housing for the poorest communities in the Philippines by using alternative construction materials. Sustainable materials such as bamboo and even paper were used and also recycled materials such as tyres and old plastic bottles.

The MyShelter Foundation was already recycling old plastic bottles by filling them with mud and building walls with them. When they heard of Alfredo Moser's bottle lamp innovation they began installing them in their constructions. They also began training people how to install them enabling people to make an income.

The Moser lamps have now been installed in over 140,000 homes in the Philippines and his invention is being used in an estimated 15 countries worldwide, including India, Bangladesh and Argentina.

A simple but brilliant idea, from a Brazilian mechanic, has helped hundreds of thousands of people improve their living conditions and reduced pollution worldwide.It is estimated that over a million people worldwide have benefited from Alfredo's 'bright idea' leading to talk of him receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

Article written by Grant Taylor for Expert Skip Hire, Sussex.

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