Norwegian start-up Othalo promises to tackle two of the world’s biggest and most challenging problems. Othalo, established in 2019, is known for its patented technology that mass produces building systems from recycled plastic waste. “The meaning of the name itself gives you an idea of the core of the company. In old Norse it is seen as the expansion of the light of the individual and collective human consciousness against the forces of ignorance and darkness of the world,” says Frank Cato Lahti, Founder, Othalo. Seema Sreedharan, Editor, Architecture+Design, caught up with Frank Cato Lahti for a conversation on the problems that plague our world and the solutions that we need. Here’s an excerpt…
Building systems from recycled plastic– how did the thought come about?
Frank Cato Lahti (FCL): We, as in the collective civilisation, are in a state where during the last two-three generations we have created what is known as the sixth mass-extinction. Life on earth is dying at a rate never seen before, and escalating, and most biologists are convinced it is man-made. There are several reasons for being in this situation, plastic pollution is just one of the threats towards earth’s biomass, both on land; rivers and ocean. It is predicted that the oceans of the world will have more plastic than fish by 2050 if we continue as we do today with the way we are handling plastic waste. By using plastic waste as a resource to battle the housing deficiency of the world one has created a situation where plastics are being collected, even mined from dumpsites, upcycled and being used as raw material to meet dire need for affordable housing worldwide.
The association with UN-Habitat?
FCL: UN-Habitat had heard about the Othalo technology during the fall of 2019. They flew up from Nairobi in December 2019 to have a look at the technology and since then we have worked closely to make this technology available for those in need for housing.
How do you envision the housing project?
FCL: These buildings can include housing, refugee shelters, temperature controlled mobile storage units for food and medicine, schools and hospitals. Moreover, all of these structures are affordable, sustainable, eco-friendly, and meet modern living standards—and are all made of recycled plastic. A single 60 sq m home upcycles eight tons of plastic; with the amount of plastic waste currently polluting the planet, one billion Othalo homes could be manufactured. These fabricated building systems are designed to be flexible and can be molded to meet endless possibilities. Our designers have created a series of modules that can be locked together, permitting wide variety of buildings to be made from these core components.
How do you identify the locations?
FCL: The basic plan of the company and the housing project is to identify the need for housing, establish a factory as near the area which is to be developed, and as close to the plastic waste material as possible to create an efficient supply chain. We will use local plastic waste, create local jobs throughout the entire value chain, from waste management to erecting the houses, and build local communities. We want to supply the technology throughout the world where there is a need for housing. The factories themselves can, depending on the size of the factories, produce from one thousand 60 sq m homes per year per eight-hour-shift, ideally one such factory could produce 2000 homes per year, up to 10.000 such homes per year.
FCL: Othalo is based upon four pillars of visionary excellence: Battle the plastic waste problem of the world; Battle the world’s housing deficiency; Local empowerment through employment; ans a CSR program that gives back to the communities with focus on women, education, pension planning and healthcare.
And the response?
FCL: The response has been massive! From all over the world. And it has been from governments, from companies and from people who want to know more and people who want to get involved, asking how they can get involved. But the most rewarding, motivating and inspiring are the e-mails we have got from young people. They have ideas and want to be a part of the change. And being able to motivate the young adults and the children, to read about the hope they feel that Othalo is providing. It gives me goosebumps every time, and just by telling you about it as well. That is in alignment with the vision of Othalo. This is meant to be a technology for the future, for hope, for the next generation.