Can I Live In Your Trash?

The next time you stroll down the street, and see a discarded water bottle or pure water sachet thrown about (which can be seen on any street in Nigeria), this trash, that was cast down with no regard – could be the future of affordable housing in Nigeria.

Sound crazy? I know it sounds wild, but this is exactly what Othalo, a Norwegian-based start-up wants to do. Othalo’s mission is to use billions of tonnes of plastic waste to solve the housing deficiency in the developing world.

Plastic Housing Rendering – credit Othalo

Housing Crisis

There is a critical need for affordable housing in the developing world. The shortfall of housing is estimated to be about 1 Billion units. In Nigeria, there is a 17 – 20 Million deficit of affordable housing – and climbing. This is an existential crisis. All stops should be removed to cure this ailment.

This issue needs to be solved by the government and by the private sector. Incentives should be in place to propel private investment in the manufacturing and building of quality affordable housing in Nigeria. Luxury developments seem to be springing up left and right – for those that can afford them, but for the vast majority of the masses – the housing situation is bleak.

Is Housing in Nigeria a Right or Privilege?

Imagine waking up on a raffia mat on the bare floor of a make-shift shack, crowded together in an encampment with countless other families trying to create shelter for themselves. Crudely assembled structures mended with rope and twine, torn plastic sheeting waving in the wind, in a weak attempt to keep out the heavy Lagos rain. Rusted corrugated metal poses as roofing, but only held in place by a few heavy rocks…

Is this any way to live? Can this be called – home? The sad reality is that this is home for millions of Nigerians. Children growing up every day, not realizing that they live in such abject poverty, oblivious to the harsh realities around them – but to them, it is all they know.

Shanty town. Photographed on the outskirts of Port Harcourt, in Rivers State, Nigeria.

Can Plastic Work?

The concept for Othalo’s big goal is pretty basic. Collect plastic waste, that is generated every day all around the world and turn this “waste” into a plastic product that can be used to create modular, affordable housing units.

These plastic materials will be mixed with other non-flammable products to create flooring, roofing, walls, and cross members for the construction of homes. 8 tonnes of plastic will be needed to construct a 60-meter housing unit that could be up to 4 floors. The factory aims to produce around 3,000 units per year.

Legos in Lagos?

One Problem Solves Another

Africa imports thousands of tonnes of plastic each year, and most if it ends up in landfills – which creates environmental and health issues in local communities. So instead of throwing plastic into a dump, it can be recycled and formed into a quality, safe, attractive housing unit – a win-win.

One of our previous articles discussed another alternative to affordable housing in Nigeria. – compressed earth blocks (CEB). Which takes naturally occurring soil (laterite), that Nigeria is abundantly blessed with and forms them into hardened bricks, that can then be used to create cool, affordable housing.

Implementing these two concepts to produce quality, affordable housing in Nigeria is a no-brainer. We need to act fast. There is no time to waste. It can not be acceptable to drive or walk by shanty towns or floating slums without a thought for the conditions that “our” people are living in. It is not fair and not OK.

We need more bold ideas like Othalo’s. We also need local ideas born in Nigeria by Nigerians to solve the humanitarian crisis of the lack of affordable housing in Nigeria. We have the brain power, the knowledge and resources – do we have the will?

Roman Kingsley

Journalist based in the United States and Nigeria, focusing on Real Estate Development and the stories emerging in and around the built environment.

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