Colom­bia trans­forms old tires into green hous­ing

The China Post - - LIFE - BY PAULA CAR­RILLO

The high­lands around the Colom­bian cap­i­tal are scat­tered with small build­ings that look like outof-place igloos but are in fact in­no­va­tive houses made from the tires that lit­ter the coun­try’s roads.

The woman be­hind the project is Alexan­dra Posada, a 35-year-old en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist who sports a cow­boy hat and jeans while she works, her buff biceps rip­pling in her tank top as she slings around old tires and shov­els them full of dirt.

“I get th­ese tires for free be­cause it’s a huge prob­lem for peo­ple to get rid of them,” she told AFP.

“They take thou­sands of years to de­com­pose — which we’ve trans­formed from a prob­lem into an op­por­tu­nity,” she said. “If you use them as con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als, they be­come vir­tu­ally eter­nal bricks.”

Posada is cur­rently at work on sev­eral houses in the moun­tains of Choachi, a city of about 15,000 peo­ple an hour’s drive east of Bogota.

She and her team take trucks filled with old tires and fill them with earth, turn­ing them into mas­sive bricks that weigh 200 to 300 ki­los (450 to 650 pounds) each.

Us­ing a range of tires from semi trucks to cars, they stack them to­gether around iron bars to cre­ate round struc­tures that are at once solid and flex­i­ble — well in­su­lated against the heat and cold, but also rub­bery enough to with­stand the earth­quakes com­mon in this seis­mi­cally ac­tive An­des re­gion.

The houses have rounded ce­ment-and-steel ceil­ings over the bed­rooms and kitchen, and flat wood-plank ceil­ings over the living room and dining room.

Both are cov­ered by an­other layer of tires, mak­ing “an al­most non- degrad­able, im­per­me­able” roof, said Posada.

The houses may be made from waste, but they have a cap­ti­vat­ing beauty.

The sweep­ing curves of the roofs are of­ten painted in bright colors.

The walls are cov­ered with tan mor­tar made of lime and sand, giv­ing them a smooth adobe look in­ter­rupted by flashes of color from old glass bot­tles in­serted in the ma­sonry.

Posada also uses glass bot­tles to make sky­lights in the bed­rooms, in­sert­ing them ver­ti­cally in the con­crete ceil­ings to cre­ate a pix­i­lated stained-glass ef­fect.

“Th­ese houses are made with reused ma­te­ri­als, but they’re also beau­ti­ful, airy, with more in­di­rect light,” she said.

Mil­lions of Tires

It is an in­ge­nious so­lu­tion to a tricky prob­lem.

Colom­bians throw out more than 5.3 mil­lion tires a year, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures — nearly 100,000 tons of rub­ber that pol­lute the en­vi­ron­ment.

They of­ten end up aban­doned in un­sightly piles along the coun­try’s roads, or are burned to get rid of them, adding their acrid smell to the clouds of car ex­haust that of­ten choke Bogota, a sprawl­ing city of more than seven mil­lion peo­ple.

“It’s a huge prob­lem in terms of the public space, the en­vi­ron­ment and the land­scape,” said Fran­cisco Gomez, who heads the en­vi­ron­ment min­istry’s re­sponse to the is­sue.

Tire man­u­fac­tur­ers and im­porters in Colom­bia are only re­quired to re­cy­cle about 35 per­cent of the coun­try’s to­tal con­sump­tion.

And san­i­ta­tion work­ers are not re­spon­si­ble for re­mov­ing aban­doned tires be­cause they are con­sid­ered “spe­cial waste.”

“The re­sponse we’ve been able to im­ple­ment is pretty small in terms of the quan­tity of waste be- ing gen­er­ated,” said Gomez.

Posada has so far used about 9,000 old tires to make the walls, roofs, ter­races and steps of her rub­ber “igloos.”

One of her work­ers, Wil­liam Clav­ijo, a 57-year-old ma­son, said the job has taught him a les­son in “valu­ing things.”

“Peo­ple usu­ally just throw this stuff away. Now you see that it can be put to good use,” he said as he slapped lay­ers of mor­tar across a wall of tires, hid­ing its past as rub­bery waste aban­doned on the streets of Bogota.


1. A man works build­ing a house with tires in Choachi, Cun­d­i­na­marca, Colom­bia on March 16.

2. A la­borer can be seen work­ing on a home built with tires in Choachi, Cun­d­i­na­marca, Colom­bia on March 16.

3. Alexan­dra Posada works on the build­ing of the roof of her home in Choachi, Cun­d­i­na­marca, Colom­bia on March 16.

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