CAN THEY BE ENVIRONMENTALLY GREEN?
Al Fritsch, SJ & Consultants
There is nothing ecological about plastic houses! They use large amounts of non-renewable resources and energy to produce. Their permanence is questionable; they are expensive; and they burden segments of society who can least afford it with debt rather than affordable and appropriate housing which can often be built and maintained by residents themselves.
In Eastern Kentucky so-called "Ecological Plastic Homes" are now being built as permanent low-cost housing for the poor, yet these houses are neither low-cost nor ecologically sound and their permanence is in question. The basic building material is a high-tech corrugated board made of polyethylene or polypropylene virgin plastic, supplied by Eagle Plastics Systems of Pompano Beach, Florida and its holding company Eagle Capital Management. The company's principal clients are missionary groups trying to supply temporary housing for the Third World homeless and disaster victims. Using this source of materials the Appalachian Development Corporation, a group associated with the Christian Appalachian Project, has begun fabricating plastic four by eight-foot panels that are supported by sheet metal studs and fashioned into structures considered permanent for Appalachian people.
ASPI does not fault the efforts at supplying Third World people with temporary housing. Even such houses which have limited lifetimes and are made from non-renewable petroleum products are satisfactory in such emergency cases. Modifying this technique and adapting these materials for use as permanent housing in our country is a different matter altogether. After considering available data, ASPI comes to the following conclusions:
ASPI cannot call this an ecological, safe, or a low-cost type of house. It is questionable whether these buildings will be any better than mobile homes with regard to durability, home renovation and improvement, or energy efficiency. Granted, one advantage is the use of local labor for fabrication and assembly. However, the same labor could be used to build equally acceptable and more highly ecological cordwood houses or other types of buildings which utilize native materials.