Sustainable Design: Liter of Light

logo_of_liter_of_light_While tweeting last Thursday, Dawn, Paula and myself had a short twitter conversation about sustainable design and the impact pollution has on urban environments. We also shared possible solutions to combat issues associated with pollution in areas with overpopulation/crowding.

One place we talked about is Manila. Manila is a unique city for many reasons, overcrowding being one of them. Manila is the most densely populated city in the world, with more than 41,500 people per square kilometer. By comparison, Toronto has 945 people for the same area. Many people living in Manila are also very poor, and things we take for granted such as clean indoor plumbing and electricity are not available in their homes.


Aerial photo over Manila, Phillipines

Aerial photo over Manila, Phillipines

Many of the homes are so packed that light cannot enter them – windows are a luxury many don’t have. Without a way for light to get inside and electricity not being available to them their homes are dark 24 hours a day. The rainy season makes up approximately half the year and removing roof panels to provide light is not an option. Take this weeks forecast for example:


That’s a lot of rain! How do people get light into their homes? One way is the Liter of Light initiative.

Liter of light

In 2002 Alfredo Moser invented a plastic bottle light like the one used by Liter of Light to provide indoor lighting as a response to constant power cuts in his home country of Brasil. In 2011, Illac Diaz used Moser’s technology to start the MyShelter Foundation, which used a grassroots model to provide lighting on a large scale. The program uses partners around the world to keep costs down, using recycled plastic bottles and locally sourced materials. The program also promotes local entrepreneurs, by providing financial incentives to locals who assemble and install the lights. MyShelter also maintains training centres, allowing youth and businesses to volunteer their time and efforts. Today Liter of Light has installed over 350,000 bottle lights in 15 countries!

The device itself is simple – a 1.5 to 2.0 litre plastic bottle (the type used widely for soft drinks) filled with water and just 10 mL of bleach or ammonia, to hinder bacterial and algal growth. The bottle is secured into a hole in the roof which is then made waterproof. During daylight hours, light entering the top of the bottle is refracted inside the home, providing as much light as a 40-60 watt incandescent bulb. These bottles can last 5 years!


The movement has spread globally, and has been picked up by aid groups around the world, providing indoor light to some of the world’s most marginalized in an affordable and sustainable way. Programs like these provide a good model to how environmentally responsible actions can be taken in an affordable and scalable way.


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