efe-epaLas Veraneras, Panama

Two non-governmental organizations have turned some 10,000 plastic bottles into a community center in a Panamanian shanty town, aiming to raise awareness aboutthe serious environmental problem that plastic waste represents.

"This is the first community center to be built out of plastic bottles in all Central America," Trenco Foundation director Carmen Maria Miselem told EFE. "We have to hurry because we will be opening in two weeks and we still have work left to do."

The 36-sq. meter (387.5-sq. foot) venue was built using bottles fitted into wood planks that are then filled with concrete, which are later stacked up like bricks.

The method doesn't require skilled work and is simple and inexpensive, as plastic bottles are 40 percent cheaper than concrete or bricks.

The weather-resistant structure meets all Panamanian construction regulations and harnesses the natural light that seeps through the bottles.

"We have a big problem with plastic and waste in general in this country," Miselem said. "We only recycle five percent of the more than 2,500 tons of trash that we generate per day. This is not sustainable and we need to look for a solution."

"Panama's reality is very tough and not everyone wants to see it," the head of Vivienda y Habitat de Techo said in turn, adding that his country's inequality rate is among the highest in the world.

Trenco is mainly dedicated to recycling, while Vivienda y Habitat de Techo focuses on affordable housing and fighting poverty.

According to UN figures, as many as 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the world's oceans, and the organization estimates that, should the current rate continue, plastic is expected to outnumber fish two to one by 2050.

By Maria M.Mur