Is It Possible to Turn Discarded Plastic into Affordable Housing? | Julien De Smedt and Othalo Bring a Ground-breaking Solution

Discarded Plastic into Affordable Housing | Julien De Smedt and Othalo Bring a Ground-breaking Solution

The affordable housing crisis and plastic waste management have always been high on the agenda of the UN, the World Bank, government high authorities, nation-states and a number of think tanks. Even our honourable Prime Minister- Narendra Modi had already mentioned in his radio show ‘Mann ki baat’ to shun single-use plastics to protect the environment. Apart from this, the PM is also formulating policies like ‘Affordable Housing For All’ to eliminate urban India’s housing problem by 2022. But what if we use one of our most pressing problems - the world’s plastic pollution, to solve another one - the shortage of quality affordable housing? SURFACES REPORTER (SR) thinks it will be a win-win situation. 

3D Concept by JDS Architects


recycled plastic

Recently, on World Habitat Day 2020, Julien De Smedt, founder of JDS architects, has joined forces with Othalo, a Norweigan start-up that has developed a patented technology that makes it possible to produce building elements from 100% recycled plastic. The two firms have been associated with the UN habitat for the cause. UN-Habitat is the program of the united nations for human settlements and sustainable urban development.

Othalo in collaboration with JDS Architects will develop its first series of building elements and designs for low-cost homes in Africa over the next 18 months. The company expects to be ready to start mass production in early 2022. According to them, “Nearly one billion people live in slums today, and in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, the immediate need for low-cost housing is 160 million units and is expected to increase to 360 million by 2050 as a result of rapid urbanization.”

Founder Frank Cato Lahti has since 2016 worked on developing the technology in partnership with experts in SINTEF and University in Tromsø, and has now teamed up with architect Julien De Smedt and a prize-winning serial entrepreneur and Young Global Leader Silje Vallestad. 

Plastic- A New Building Material

Julien De Smedt believes that new technology is one of the ways to deal with a shortage of building materials in the areas of the world where there is an urgent need for housing.

Just as cities are formed by buildings of wood, concrete, clay, steel, they could very well contain a building constructed from plastic waste, as long as it’s done safely and sustainably. If you consider the amount of plastic waste worldwide, this could very well become an entirely new material resource to tap onto. 

How This New Technology Will Help To Combat Housing and Plastic Problems Altogether?

A 60 m2 Othalo house recycles 8 tonnes of plastic waste, and with the enormous need for low-cost housing globally, the system can help make a significant difference. Since 1950, more than 9 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced globally, of which only 9% is recycled.

With today's plastic waste, more than 1 billion houses can be built. The other will extend its product line to temperature controlled mobile storage units for food and medicine, refugee shelters, and larger modular buildings (schools, hospitals, etc.).

Manufacturing of all Othalo systems is planned to take place onsite using local raw materials, and this will create thousands of jobs in the process. As per the firm, traditional construction methods are neither efficient, economical nor sufficiently sustainable to succeed. A technology that enables industrial upcycling of waste and mass production is essential to meet today’s urgent needs. 

The JDS firm- who has been approached by Othalo for helping them to give life to a technology they've been developing the past 3 years- looked at the fast-growing cities like Nairobi to analyse the design construction.

Julien said that the design features combinations of covered spaces, loggias, and terraces interconnected to give back new public layers to the city. 

The actual prototyping of the real building will happen this coming year, and will thereafter follow Othalo's intention: local sourcing of plastic waste and local production of the building elements. 

We, at SURFACES REPORTER (SR), congratulate Othalo and JDS Architects for their collaboration and their drive to recyle plastic waste into sustainable housing. Plastic waste and affordable housing shortage is a global problem today. So, it is essential each country should commit to fight these issues together. 

SURFACES REPORTER (SR) feels proud and glad to share such innovative, sustainable and climate-proof architecture that would lead to a better tomorrow for all. If you know of or want to share any more such projects, do write to us at

Project Details

Project: Building a system based on recycled plastic waste
Type: Commission
Client: Othalo
Collaborators: Silje Vallestad,
Location: Worldwide, First focus Sub-Saharan Africa 
Status: Ongoing

*Information provided by: JDS Architects

*Image Courtesy: JDS Architects

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