Innovation That Matters

Shelter design

New shelters aid refugees with recycled plastics


A new shelter design built of recycled plastics may provide more humane living conditions for refugees.

As we have seen with this year’s devastating hurricane season, there is a continuing need for new innovations in emergency shelters. We have recently seen yurts made from plastic cloth and lockers for the homeless, but these can be too expensive and complex for use in emergencies. Now, researchers at the University of Bath are working with plastic engineering specialist Protomax to design and test reusable shelters. The shelters’s materials are from recycled waste plastic, called Storm Board, which is also suitable for reprocessing and reuse.

The plastic construction allows the shelters to lie in storage for decades until needed. The design is similar to flat pack furniture: simple, cheap and available in a variety of colors. Each shelter measures 3.6 by 4.8 meters, enough space to house a single family. Several shelters can also link together to form a larger structure. Not only reducing the impact of waste, the weather-proof material also provides greater levels of insulation and security than a tent.

Storm Board is part of an international research project, funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, in which a variety of shelters are being constructed out of sustainable materials for refugees living in extreme climates. The three-year project aims to improve refugee living conditions by designing low-cost and easy-to-construct housing.  Such structures will mediate the extremes of temperature and ensure the privacy, security and dignity of residents. It is the largest ever global study investigating thermal, air quality and social conditions in camps housing displaced people. After testing at the University’s Building Research Park, the most promising designs will travel to Jordan for local testing. They will also gain the feedback of camp occupants and aid agencies there. What other types of shelters might be helpful in creating not just housing, but also better living conditions for refugees?




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