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Thursday, 22 January 2015

Liter of Light's solar-powered, DIY lamp made from a plastic bottle is transforming lives

The Independent

Despite what Back to the Future fans would have you believe, "where's my hoverboard?" isn't a shoe-in for the motto of 2015. "Let there be light" is a strong contender, thanks to this being Unesco's International Year of Light. The opening ceremony in Paris this week celebrated seminal moments in the history of illumination.

It is, I learn, 1,000 years since the great Arabic scientist, Ibn al-Haytham, released his magnum opus on optics, 150 years since James Clerk Maxwell came up with the electromagnetic theory of light, and 50 years since the development of fibre optics. All of which enlightening anniversaries provide a handy springboard for Unesco to promote light-based technologies throughout the year.

For those of us who spend our lives surrounded by artificial light, bathed in floods of the stuff in our homes and workplaces and on our streets, it might seem something so mundane as not to require, well, the spotlight. But today, more than a quarter of the world's population lives in darkness.

According to Unesco figures, more than 1.5 billion people around the world currently have no access to electric light, and around 1.3 billion of them must spend up to half their income on paraffin to light their homes at night. Paraffin kills around 1.5 million people a year in fires, or from associated health problems such as bronchitis and cancer. Inhaling paraffin smoke on a regular basis is equivalent to smoking four packets of cigarettes a day.

The need for clean, affordable alternatives is obvious, which is why one charity, Liter of Light, has pledged to create a million green, off-the-power-grid lights in 2015 using an ingenious design that is, frankly, rubbish. Liter of Light has developed a solar-powered light that is cheap and relatively easy to assemble and whose main feature is a plastic bottle: the kind that holds a litre of fizzy drink, and that is usually thrown away once empty. 

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