We have been using plastic in various forms for more than a century. It was a marvelous invention that revolutionized just about every industry from medicine to space travel. But it also led to a throw-away culture that has become a scourge on earth.
Fortunately, a large percentage of plastic, including plastic bottles, can be recycled. But have you ever thought about recycling some of your plastic bottles in your garden? The possibilities are endless, from mini-watering cans and simple drip irrigation solutions to plastic bottle greenhouses.
What can I make with empty plastic bottles?
The sky’s the limit. All you need is a bit of creativity to come up with a myriad of plastic bottle garden ideas.
Presuming the plastic bottles you use are suitable for your purpose, you can:
- create planters and use them in many different ways
- water with them
- use them to store fertilizer or compost tea
- use them as seed starters
- use them to propagate cuttings
- upcycle them by painting the outside and creating decorative pots
- cut off the bottoms to make instant miniature greenhouses
- make bird feeders
- repurpose plastic milk containers into scoops
- store small garden tools in large 5-gallon water containers
The most suitable plastic bottles to use for gardening hacks are soda bottles and plastic milk bottles.
Are all plastic bottles safe to use in the garden?
There are so many things you can make for your garden with empty plastic bottles it’s mind boggling. But not all plastic is equal; some types are highly toxic and may have a negative effect on your plants. It’s not enough to think that because a plastic bottle contains consumable liquid that it is safe to use in your garden.
Every plastic bottle or container should be stamped with a recycling symbol from 1 to 7, usually within a triangle. This indicates how toxic and how likely it is to leach, as well as how biodegradable it is (for recycling) and, ultimately how safe it is to use over time.
Of course, this won’t be an issue if you aren’t planting in your plastic bottles or using them constantly for watering or irrigation. Also, some research shows that any chemical leaching is minimal and is unlikely to be a threat when plastic bottles are reused.
Guide for choosing the most suitable plastic bottles for garden ideas
As a guide, those plastics that are safe to reuse for daily consumption, such as water bottles, for instance, will be safe to use in any form in the garden. These are soda bottles, plastic milk containers, and other plastic bottles that are categorized as #2, #4, or #5.
Apart from anything else, these three types don’t contain Bisphenol A (BPA), which is highly toxic and has been limited or banned in food containers and baby bottles in the U.S. #3 and #7 do contain BPA.
#1 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) was, according to The Berkey, which manufactures water filters, the first plastic bottle that could withstand the pressure of carbonated liquids. Although commonly used for water, juice, and soda bottles, it is intended for one-time use only.
Nevertheless, PET bottles are ideal for recycling, and Coca-Cola North America is now recycling used PET plastic bottles to make new ones. These bear the message, “Recycle Me Again.”
If exposed to heat for prolonged periods of time, they can leach toxic chemicals. So don’t use them in areas that get intense sunlight.
#2 High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is used to make milk jugs and bottles, oil bottles, and detergent bottles. It is the most commonly recycled plastic and is safe to reuse.
#3 Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is widely used for household containers from window cleaners to oil and condiment bottles. It contains highly toxic chemicals.
#4 Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) is tough, flexible, and less toxic than other plastics. Interestingly, while it is reusable, it isn’t commonly recycled. It is often used for milk and juice cartons, but not bottles – so it won’t help you start a bottle garden.
#5 Polypropylene (PP) is one of the safer plastics and it is used for all kinds of food containers, including babies’ bottles. It is safe for food and drink and resists heat.
#6 Polystyrene (PS) is commonly used for disposable cups, bowls, and take-out food. It is known to leach and is linked to cancer.
#7 Other types of plastic include BPA, which is sometimes used for plastic beverage containers, polycarbonate, and more. Plastic #7 is often used to make 3- and 5-gallon water bottles.
10 Simple plastic bottle hacks for gardening
Here are 10 simple garden hacks that you can copy using plastic bottles.
#1 Vertical garden ideas
A vertical garden is great for small gardens or to add character to dull, dreary fences. There are lots of vertical garden ideas, the simplest of which is to create a planter by cutting a section out of a plastic bottle to plant in.
Plastic milk bottles are ideal for this gardening hack because most are made from HDPE, which is safe to use. All you do is cut out the handle side off so that you are left with a mini trough-type planter.
You will need to retain the cap, and it’s a good idea to make a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Use a screwdriver or something similar to be sure that the holes don’t allow the soil to fall out.
Then you’ll need to attach your vertical planters to the fence. The easiest method is to install small shelves or hooks that they can sit on.
#2 Watering bottle
A watering bottle, rather than a watering can, is super-easy to make from plastic bottles. All you do is pierce holes in the lid of an empty bottle and you’re A for away!
Just be aware that the bigger the holes, and the more you make, will increase the water flow. Still, it’s a gentler alternative to the average watering can.
Again, a plastic milk bottle made from an HDPE milk bottle works particularly well.
#3 Gardening tools
Plastic milk containers are also great for making DIY garden tools. If you cut away below the handle of the milk bottle, keeping the handle intact, you’ll be left with a handy little trowel ideal for moving compost and soil.
If you cut away above the handle retaining the side and bottom of the plastic bottle you’ll be left with a pan that you can use with the scoop.
The bottom of milk containers can also be repurposed as a mini seed tray. Be sure to leave enough of the bottle above the floor of the tray.
#4 DIY garden drip irrigation
You will know from many of our previous posts that a large number of plants prefer to be watered from the bottom. This is why drip irrigation systems work so well.
A simple type to make involves simply cutting off the bottom of a plastic bottle. Then you either poke holes into the lid or the neck of the plastic bottle.
Bury the bottle bottom side up so that the holes are close to the plant and about 4 inches below the soil surface. Then, all you do is fill the bottles with water and let them slowly drain, moistening the soil near the roots.
#5 Plastic bottle cloche
A simple plastic bottle cloche will protect seedlings and create a mini-greenhouse environment. It will also protect your plant from birds.
All you do is cut the bottom of a clear plastic bottle and push it quite deep into the soil. A properly designed cloche will have vents in it that ensure there is a healthy microclimate inside.
You could try cutting vents in the plastic that you can push closed if there is frost. Otherwise, remove the lid to allow air to circulate and replace it when it gets cold.
Soda bottles are great for making plastic bottle cloches. They don’t contain soil or water and so shouldn’t leach.
#6 Bird feeders
You can have a lot of fun with bird feeders, either for seed or water. When feeding seed, you will need to cut holes in the sides of your plastic bottle.
They should be about a quarter of an inch in diameter. You want the birds to be able to feed without all the seed spilling out.
You will also need to drill holes on all four sides so that you can insert wooden dowels or sticks for them to perch on. And if you pierce another two small holes at the top of the plastic bottle, you can thread string through them so you can hand the feeder from a tree.
#7 Plastic bottles garden greenhouse
If you’ve got lots and lots… and lots of plastic soda bottles you could try making a plastic bottle garden greenhouse. The aim is to thread bottles together so that you can create plastic bottle walls.
Cut the bottoms off the bottles so that water doesn’t accumulate in them. Then thread them onto canes or garden stakes.
You will need to build a wooden framework for your greenhouse, preferably with a low-pitched roof. Secure the canes to the framework lengthwise to make your walls.
You can use the same materials to form the roof, although it makes be easier to use a standard roofing material.
#8 Garden sprinkler
You don’t have to spend lots of money on a sprinkler system, but you will need an adaptor of some sort for this gardening hack. There are different sizes made to connect garden hoses to taps, and one of these might do the trick.
Pierce holes on all sides of your empty plastic bottle. Hook your garden hose up to your “sprinkler” and away you go.
#9 Garden labels
This garden hack is so simple, it’s surprising more people don’t use it. Cut strips of leftover plastic into 1-inch strips and use them to label your plants.
#10 Container for garden tools
Finally, the simplest idea of them all. All you have to do is cut the top of a large plastic jug and use it to store your small garden tools like spades, scoops, secateurs, and forks.
These plastic bottle hacks are designed to show you how much you can do with plastic bottles. Be inspired by these, or come up with some creative ideas of your own.