We all recognize the first and best way to deal with the overabundance of plastic bottles in the trash is to avoid using them at all. A reusable water bottle helps, but for many, a genuine effort will mean finding ways to have soda, sports drinks, and ice tea in vessels that aren’t plastic. Pure and simple, opting for cans is much easier and more ecological means of recycling drink containers than the plastic bottle.
The other reality to acknowledge is that, while repurposing plastic bottles is something to do, an effort, there are only so many things we can make with old plastic bottles. Furthermore, using one plastic bottle (or five or ten) to create something isn’t likely to make much of a dent on the number of plastic bottles the average American uses: 13 plastic water bottles each a month! That’s not counting soda, lemonade, ice tea, sports drinks, etc.
In other words, we need to keep the repurposing effort in perspective. With most projects, we can likely account for less than a month’s worth of bottles for a single person before risking being overrun by a home of plastic bottle crafts. The next month there’s no more room for repurposed bottles, so our effort falls flat almost right away. That won’t solve the issue.
While some of the projects are fun and account for a handful of bottles or just a single bottle, there are larger scale ways to repurpose plastic bottles. The suggestions below are focused on repurposing lots of bottles, which could make a notable difference. Becoming part of these endeavors will allow interested parties to reroute hundreds, thousands, even millions of plastic bottles from the landfills and recycling bundles to practical uses.
Bottle bricks are a fantastic way to repurpose both plastic bottles and the flimsy plastic bags. Both the bottles and bags should be washed before the bags are stuffed into the plastic bottles to create what is essentially a plastic brick. Put together enough plastic bricks and they can be used to create plastic brick structures. This is being done around the world to build schools, homes, roads, community centers, and more. Though US planning boards would never allow such construction, we still have the potential to make benches, fences, walls, and other structures out of bottle bricks.
Boats, Floats, Islands, & Piers
This is a rather specific need, but for those who have it, creating a boat or floating island can account for a large number of bottles. Tom Davies, a New Zealander living in Fiji, crafted a nifty boat using 600 plastic bottles. Similarly, a large block of attached plastic bottles could help to create a floating island or pier in the middle of a pond or lake. If we were to start repurposing our plastic bottles this way regularly, we could use up a lot of them. They infamously last a long time, are lightweight, can be attached to each other, and float. Even better, if one fails, it won’t affect the structures ability to float. They are perfect for doing this.
While bottle bricks are filled with inorganic material, empty plastic bottles can be used to fill space and insulate, which makes them ideal for building greenhouses. Again, plastic-bottle greenhouses will use hundreds of bottles each, so their impact might occupy a typical household’s plastic bottle output for the year. Plus, they create a warmer growing environment for cultivating food, another eco-adventure to embark on. While these greenhouses aren’t airtight, they can create temperatures 10 degrees higher than what’s outside, and they let rain trickle in so that don’t require constant irrigation.
One of the more interesting and unusual projects that uses up lots of plastic bottles is suspending hundreds of them as a parking canopy. In this case, a sturdy carport frame is built. Then, instead of using typical roofing material to cover the parking space, over a thousand plastic bottles are suspended to create a textured canopy. To make the canopy more colorful, the bottles can be filled with a little water and food coloring. These canopies are literally works of art.
Growing gardens is becoming a popular pastime in the US and beyond, and many gardeners are recognizing the potential to grow plants upwards rather than spread over the ground. One way of doing this is creating expanses of planters that hang along fences or walls (or act as fences or walls themselves). Plastic bottles are appropriately sized and light, which makes them ideal planters for vertical gardening. This could be done to an entire apartment block, school wall or park fence. That said, those worried about leaching chemicals (and why wouldn’t we be) should consider that when using them to grow food.
When we look at bigger solutions, we can see potential of repurposing millions of plastic bottles in ways that are more impactful than another piggy bank or bird feeder. While those projects are fun and can teach the lesson of repurposing, these grander ideas might actually get some of the heavy lifting done. Of course, if we keep adding to the plastic bottle problem, it’ll be impossible to ever catch up.
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