A simple machine that can turn discarded plastic bottles into a superior roofing material for tropical climates has been designed by Duquesne University business professor Dr. David Saiia.
Saiia, an associate professor of strategic management and sustainability, is obtaining a patent for the table-top, hand-powered, special-purpose lathe.
Reducing the volume of plastic waste that chokes even the most out-of-the way village in the poorest nations and turning it into strips of translucent, impervious roofing material at a negligible cost is a worthy goal, but Saiia is looking to create business opportunities for local entrepreneurs in regions like the fragile cloud forest of Ecuador, where Saiia generated the idea.
Saiia was investigating sustainable enterprises for the small farmers of the Macquipucuna region and “literally sketched [the machine] on the back of a napkin.”
The machine works like a hand-cranked apple corer. By turning the crank, an empty plastic bottle rotates against a cutting blade, producing a meter-long coil of plastic. This coil is straightened and creased along its length by a pair of opposed rollers.
The strips attach to a bamboo slat approximately the same length, producing a square “panel” of plastic thatching that can be fixed to rafters to form a roof. This roof, according to Saiia, will allow the air in steamy interiors to escape but can last up to 10 times as long as organic thatch. He also believes that his plastic thatch is better than the corrugated metal or fiberglass roofs that trap heat and smoke, plus produce a rattling, often deafening, din during downpours.
Saiia and students in Duquesne’s MBA Sustainability program conducted an analysis for launching the product. They concluded that the existing machine, along with opportunities for franchising it, could benefit from making it partially or perhaps fully automated.
Saiia is working on designs for a bio-diesel powered model and is looking for other uses for the plastic strips. “That’s the obvious next step in terms of a business plan,” he said. “Get the primary product out there and then determine how you extend the line.”