This post is part of a series of stories featuring the entrepreneurs who participated in Unreasonable Mexico’s second annual program.


Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the Earth four times. Of the plastics produced, we only recover (or divert from landfills) about five percent. Left in landfills, certain varieties can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, leaking toxins into the soil and water in the meantime. It’s estimated that 10-20 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year.

Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the Earth four times. Tweet This Quote

Mexico ranks as the 12th largest plastics consumer in the world, consuming over 5 million tons of plastic each year. Growing up in the state of Puebla, Carlos Daniel González remembers the prevalence of this pollution and its damage to his community.

“As a kid, I remember seeing all of the plastic and the contamination it caused, for us and for the animals,” said González. “I’ve always cared about the environment, so I decided I had to create and lead a solution.”

In 2013, he founded EcoDomum to build durable, affordable homes using recycled plastic. Furthermore, González decided to employ his environmental solution to address another serious problem in his country—Mexicans living in extreme poverty.

plastics in Mexico

A sample of the various types of plastic collected by EcoDomum.

The World Bank defines extreme poverty as “living on the edge of subsistence with an average daily consumption of $1.25 or less.” In Mexico, 11.5 million people—nearly 10% of the country’s entire population—live in extreme poverty. Puebla, where EcoDomum is headquartered, is one of the poorest states in Mexico with 64 percent of the population living in poverty. According to González, this often means people in his neighborhood lack the basic needs of food and housing.

“I live in a place with a lot of poverty and problems of marginalization,” said González. “Some people live in truly deplorable conditions, places you can’t even call houses. My vision is very clear. I have the conviction to help the most people I can have a dignified life by getting rid of extreme poverty, cleaning up my country at the same time.”

Certain plastic varieties can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. Tweet This Quote

EcoDomum does this by collecting plastic, melting it down and shaping it into large panels, and using those panels as the walls and roofs to build insulated houses.

According to González, the process is relatively simple. First, the company collects all kinds of used plastic—from soda bottles to old toys—and separates it to find the types that melt without emitting harmful fumes. Then, they put the plastic into a machine to chop it up. Next, the pieces are placed in an oven that heats up to 350 degrees Celsius (over 600 degrees Fahrenheit), taking approximately half an hour to melt all of the material. Finally, the liquid goes through a hydraulic press, which simultaneously compresses and crystallizes the plastic into the shape of the panels.

Mexico plastic EcoDomum

Close-up of EcoDomum plastic panel.

Each panel is nearly eight feet long, four feet wide and approximately one inch thick. Houses are typically around 430-460 square feet and contain two rooms plus one bathroom, one living room and a kitchen. Constructing a house requires 80 panels, and at its current capacity, EcoDomum’s plant produces 120 panels a day, transforming and repurposing 5.5 tons of what was once plastic waste.

“It only takes seven days to build a house that uses two tons of plastic,” said González. Furthermore, the durable, impermeable and affordable properties of plastic that have given it a competitive advantage for decades apply to these houses as well. “[A house] keeps you warm, the costs are low, it’s great for the environment, and it will last 100 years without falling apart. These are just some of our value propositions.”

In Mexico, 11.5 million people live in extreme poverty—under $1.25 a day. Tweet This Quote

Although the startup built two prototype houses, EcoDomum primarily sells the panels individually—a roof for 600 pesos (33 USD), an exterior wall for 650 pesos (36 USD), and an interior wall for 500 pesos (28 USD)—to local governments and organizations that take care of the construction of subsidized housing. Families only have to pay 5,000 pesos (approximately 280 USD) for a 430 square foot house.

In addition to helping the environment and housing those in need, EcoDomum also stimulates the local economy by paying trash collectors a higher rate for their work. According to González, trash collectors in Mexico are paid abusive wages by large companies, around 1.5 pesos (6 cents) for 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds). He thought if he could form alliances with these companies, paying them to pay higher wages to their employees, he could ensure a constant supply of material for his company’s panels. It worked, and he nearly doubled the wages of several trash collectors.

Mexico plastic house

An EcoDomum prototype house built using its plastic panels.

To date, the startup has constructed five hundred 135 square foot rooms for the city of Huauchinango, Puebla. The city of Chiconcuhutla contracted the company to build 150 houses, 460 square feet each. Currently, EcoDomum is working on a contract from the city of Pahuatlán for another 150 homes. In 2016, the company is set to move into a larger warehouse and start expanding throughout all of Mexico.

“This has the potential to grow exponentially,” said González. “The problem of trash is huge in my country. In the whole world, there’s a ton of trash. In the next year, I want to grow the company ten-fold. First, we will concentrate in Mexico, but in 3-5 years, we want to go to other countries. There is poverty everywhere. The world is a house for everyone, and it’s worth it to fight for expanding this business. I will dedicate the rest of my life to this.”

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About the author

Brittany Lane

Brittany Lane

Brittany is the editor of UNREASONABLE.is for Unreasonable Group. She believes lasting social and environmental change happens at the intersection of entrepreneurship and empathy.

  • Brittany, this is exceptionally written! Thank you for this piece and thank you Carlos + Eco Domum team for your insanely impactful and compelling work. You should connect with a global Unreasonable Institute Fellow from 2014, Roman Sebekin + his venture Plastica. Here’s the TED-style talk from the Unreasonable Launchpad last year on the work he is doing in Russia turning plastic waste into housing. http://unreasonable.is/plastica/

  • Daniel Hartman

    What you are doing is very innovative and very inspiring. Combining
    two of the worlds largest problems (poverty and pollution) to create one very
    effective and impactful solution. The only problem I find with it is the
    incentive for more cautiousness in citizens to be sorting and throwing out
    their trash in the correct place. Now I am not from Mexico and I have no
    conception of how garbage gets sorted there, but in the US it is solely based
    on the will and discretion on the individual to be recycling and sorting their
    trash. Finding a use for the things are recycles this innovative is
    commendable, but work must still be done to ensure that we get the most recyclable
    material possible to a place where it can be recycled properly. I love the idea
    though and this has the potential to improve and save thousands of lives. Congratulations!

  • Amanda

    After reading this article, I was very impressed to find how inexpensive the houses are being sold for. Although it only costs a few hundred dollars, how are these people able to afford a house when they are paid less that a dollar twenty five a day?

  • Sarah Nelson

    The work of EcoDomum is truly impressive and is helping to solve a major problem that impacts not only Mexico but the rest of the world. Making these houses out of recycled material and keeping these materials out of landfills. My only question is why isn’t EcoDomum selling these panels directly to the consumers, why are they going through a middle man?

  • Adam Bundy

    EcoDomum is do a very respectable thing. the concept of killing two birds with one stone applies perfectly as they are working to solve hosing and environmental issues. However how in depth have stress tests been on these panels?

  • Kunal Patel

    I agree with Sarah and believe they should focus on cutting out the middle man or in this case local governments or organizations. This way not only can they build a stronger social and business connection with their clients, but they come off as more of an accessible and unbiassed company who can decrease the servicing cost for customers as well as maybe even increase profit margins which can then be used to grow the company more.

  • Katie Frank

    EcoDomum’s work is extremely admirable and addresses both social and environmental issues. The potential for this project is exciting and I love how they are both recycling and building house for those who can’t possibly afford them. My favorite part of this idea was the fact that the company takes plastic that would go to the landfills or thrown to the streets and turns them into an actual living structure.

  • Danielle Flynn

    This is an amazingly, intelligent written post. I love the large extent of statistics written in the piece, while the author also incorporates quotes and ideas to keep the reader’s attention. However, one statistic I was hoping to see was how much it costs for EcoDomum to create these houses verse the amount they sold them for, which happens to be stated. Nonetheless, EcoDomum is an amazing company that I strongly hope and believe will set a standard for future companies to look up to, to strive to be a company of helping and nurturing the world and it’s people instead of being too caught up with the monetary aspect of a business.

  • Brittany Lane

    Hi Sarah and Kunal, thank you both for your comments and sharing a similar question—it’s a great one. As of now, the majority of the panels are sold to governments and NGOs, but I imagine they occasionally sell directly to other individual customers as well. However, the main impediment is that the price point isn’t quite low enough yet for Mexicans living in extreme poverty to purchase them and spend the time building houses themselves. By selling it to local governments and NGOs, they can help dramatically subsidize the costs and ensure the houses are constructed. Perhaps over time, they might be able to lower prices and sell directly to this market, but for the time being, it appears that it isn’t feasible as a business model.

  • danlorusso

    I find myself wondering what the world will look like in 20 years with all the wasteful plastic we produce. I constantly see plastic bottles and wrappers rolling around our streets and neighborhoods and its quite
    upsetting. This post gives me hope that we can stop putting used plastic in landfills and put it to use. Another aspect of this that I really like is the process that they use to melt down the plastic because no emissions are released into the atmosphere which allows us to move towards a sustainable future.

  • Brittany Lane

    Hi, Amanda, thank you for your comment and question. This is a good observation, and I don’t have a great answer for it in the context of EcoDomum and the areas in which they operate. However, it’s likely that this is one of the most affordable + sustainable options for housing in the area. Knowing that, it’s possible family members or even communities come together to pool any amount of savings. I also imagine that certain local governments or NGOs will help subsidize the housing even more depending on the circumstances, perhaps allowing people to pay the full cost in small amounts over time. Even though the target market to receive the housing is Mexicans living in extreme poverty, they are not EcoDomum’s main customer—it’s the government bodies and civic organizations that can then support those who can’t afford it otherwise.

  • Samuel Cannon

    Brittany, I find this piece very interesting because it just goes to show what we as humans can do to recycle and give back to those in poverty stricken areas. My one question I have is how durable are the materials in different type of weather? I figure the panels themselves are probably very durable, but how would they hold up when faced with severe weather systems? Putting that aside, I think this company is addressing two major problems in our society, and taking a very unique approach to fixing it. Thanks for sharing!

  • Brittany Lane

    Hey Samuel, thanks for your comment + question! To be transparent, I didn’t think to ask the team in our conversation about how they have tested + proven durability of their panels—good observation! But, I do know that plastics in general are known for their strength and durability. I believe the panels are also reinforced with a steel frame (as shown in the image), which would increase durability, especially in the event of serious weather. Carlos, the entrepreneur, also informed me that the panels are specifically designed to insulate well and keep water out, so they have considered leaking from rain and temperature regulation. But, in the event of a hurricane, for example, I suppose time will tell!