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Plastic Bag House Could Be Answer For Haiti

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Karen Borta-2013 Karen Borta
Karen is a veteran journalist who joined CBS 11 News in 1995. Prior to...
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PLANO (CBSDFW.COM) -Two years ago, the impoverished island nation of Haiti was jarred by a massive earthquake, killing hundreds of thousands of people, and leaving many more homeless.  The island still hasn’t recovered from that disaster, but a local inventor has devised a revolutionary new type of house that will not only shelter those still homeless, it will protect them in the event of another catastrophe.  And the amazing thing is, these houses are made almost entirely out of plastic grocery bags.

Sam Bloch, the Executive Director of Haiti Communitere, a relief and recovery organization that also promotes green or alternative technologies, was so intrigued by the idea, he flew from Haiti to North Texas.  He wanted to see for himself the invention of Wylie resident Harvey Lacey.  “This is a bunch of trash bags turned into a house,” says Bloch.  “In Haiti, it’s one of the most plentiful resources out there, and right now it’s either going into the ocean or getting burned and messing up the environment.”

Harvey Lacey calls his invention Ubuntu-Blox.  They’re lightweight compressed blocks filled with plastic shopping bags that are tied together with wire. “Everything is tied together with wire,” says Lacey.  “No heat, everything is manual.  No carbon footprint. It’s just cheap. Everybody says it’s too simple. Okay, it’s too simple. That’s the way I work.”

Just how much would it cost to build such a house in Haiti?  Bloch says he’s not sure, but the price is bound to be right.  “I don’t know the exact price, but I’ve never come across anything this cheap, with all the different technologies out there. You know it’s free materials, everywhere you look– free materials,” says Bloch.

But perhaps the best news is Ubuntu-Blox house appears to be safe.  Three days ago, the sample house passed a hurricane test facing 90 mph winds and four inches of rain.  Today, it was at the National Testing Service facility in Plano to undergo a shake test of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake—the same magnitude quake that flattened much of Haiti in 2010.

The result?  A little bit of fallen plaster, but the house remained sound—something that impressed and excited Bloch.  “Even in the worst earthquake, if this were to come down, you’re going to get hit in the head with a Styrofoam block instead of a concrete block,” says Bloch.

Lacey is traveling to Haiti on Wednesday to begin training 15 Haitians on the construction of the Ubuntu-Blox houses.  After the one-month training, the hope is Haitians will be able to build their own houses and help others create theirs.

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