3 Great Ways to Recycle a Plastic Bottle


Helping you live a low-waste lifestyle!

By SCA Community Engagement Fellow Hayden Sloan

So you’re trying to live the trash-free life…but some waste is just unavoidable!

I’m with you. It can be overwhelming to give up the conveniences of modern life. Even just going to the grocery store and not ending up with a cart full of unrecyclable packaging is a challenge. But like my environmental economics professor said, “living is polluting;” even just growing crops for subsistence changes things. Environmental economics is all about deciding how much pollution you are willing to accept.

So you find yourself trying hard to reduce your waste, but you’re out on a hot day in July and you forgot your reusable bottle at home. You grab a convenient water bottle from a guy on the corner with a cooler, who’s reminding you not to “ruin your vacation with dehydration!” (This might be a true story.)

At the end of the day comes the question of what to do with the bottle you’ve acquired. If we follow the 4 Rs – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—we’re down to Reuse and Recycle, since thirst made refusing impossible. You can reuse your plastic bottle throughout the day if there are water fountains, but in the end, what will happen to this plastic bottle?

We could recycle it like a normal person, but who wants to be normal?! (Really the “normal” is to trash it and send it to the landfill, but we’re in that group of people who account for the 9% of plastics ever recycled, so our bottles go into the blue bin!)

Scenario 1: Build a house with it

There are lots of ways to reuse a bottle other than for its originally-intended purpose. You’ve probably seen some of these craft ideas floating around the internet. I love some of those ideas, but others… let’s just say it mostly has to do with aesthetics.

One concept that I love is the Bottle Brick. It’s my favorite way of repurposing bottles because it includes a way to recycle packaging that isn’t normally accepted into a recycling stream, like chip bags and candy wrappers!

To make a Bottle Brick: You pack the bottle extremely tightly with other waste that is clean and dry, using the end of a spoon to tamp it down as you go. It’s amazing how many snack wrappers will fit in there!

In your Bottle Brick, you can be assured that your trash won’t accidentally blow out and become litter. Make a few for yourself, start a neighborhood initiative, or send your creations to Bottle Brick itself! With enough friends (and a bit of concrete), you could put together a bench, a stage, or even a house!

Scenario 2: Sit on it

If you prefer a cushy seat rather than a concrete bench, this option might be a good one for you. This is my second favorite because it’s versatile. You can use whatever kind of bottle is normally in your house. ½ gallon of milk on a weekly basis? Cool. 2-liter sodas your thing? No problem. Gotta have some carrot juice in your morning smoothie? You can repurpose those bottles, too!

Rinse out your bottles at the end of their life and let them dry. Store them in a closet until you accumulate enough to make this cool ottoman! Now, this requires a bit more craftiness, but still try it out! If you really can’t, I bet your grandma would sew you a nice cover for your super awesome repurposed-bottle ottoman. Materials needed: a number of bottles, packing tape, batting, fabric.

All you have to do is arrange your bottles into a pleasing shape, tape it together like your great aunt wrapping presents at Christmas, and cover it with some cushion and fabric of your choice. You could even use bottle bricks if you want an extra sturdy, heavier ottoman. For bonus points, you can use old t-shirts or other clothes for your cushioning needs!

Scenario 3: Make some jewelry with it

I can only imagine that you, like me, have earrings fall out of your ears, your bracelets break, and your necklaces bust on a regular basis. To save yourself a chunk of change on new jewelry, use your old water bottle to make some colorful beads! As a bonus, it’ll be unique in the world of jewelry! As a second bonus: it might not be so devastating (at least to the bank account) if you lose it!

I was honestly surprised by how cute these are, and nowadays people are making jewelry out of all kinds of recycled materials. Why not bottles next? What you’ll need: a bottle, permanent markers, plyers, and some heat!

With options like these, you can save space in your community landfill and make something that might last almost as long as the plastic that bottle is made of. Much better than it ending up in the ocean!

Check out more articles by author Hayden Sloan.

Student Conservation Association
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