Photo: RecycleMan/Shutterstock

Innovative Ways to Use Empty Plastic Bottles

by Eva Sandoval Sep 22, 2010
Eva Sandoval shows us innovative ways people around the world are using empty plastic bottles, along with two simpler crafts projects that anyone can do.

Like wet mogwai, empty plastic beverage bottles appear to multiply overnight. If you’re concerned about their impact on the environment, or just too lazy to take them to the recycling bin, there are lots of ways to repurpose empty plastic bottles.

Crafts projects

Go beyond bird feeders and funnels – here are two upcycled crafts that don’t scream “Day Camp.”

Ace of Vase (from wikiHow)
Funky, unbreakable and surprisingly pretty, this vase project is ideal for soda bottles with attractive hourglass shapes, but most kinds of plastic bottle will do.

  1. Slice off the top portion of the bottle, making the cut about 3 inches above where you want the vase’s fluted rim to be.
  2. Pointing the blades downward, cut a series of straight, even strips all the way around the bottle. Strips should be about 8mm wide; do not cut strips too thin or they will be difficult to weave. Tip: to ensure that cuts are even cut segments in half, then cut those segments in half as well.
  3. Press and bend the plastic strips outward to make an even ledge around the circumference of the bottle – these will become your vase’s fluted rim. To ensure the strips flatten properly, turn the bottle upside down and press it on a flat surface so the strips splay outward.
  4. Fold the tip of a strip over the next one, crease it sharply, and tuck it under the next two.
  5. Fold and crease the next one the same way, but weave it over two and under one. For the third strip, fold it the same way as the first. Over one, under two. Over two, under one. Repeat.
  6. Continue the weaving pattern all the way around the bottle until all strips are folded and tucked under.

Say it With Plastic Flowers (from

This idea is so 70’s fabulous and simple, you’ll wonder why you never thought of it yourself. Collect bottles with undulating, flower-like bases, then slice the bottoms off. With enough of these, the possibilities are endless.

  • Paint or line them with fabric, hot glue them to twigs, and set them inside a pretty (plastic bottle?) vase.
  • Cover a canvas with them and hang it on a wall.
  • Punch holes in the center and string them together to make privacy curtains.

Some folks have taken plastic bottle DIY to whole new levels of awesome. Check these projects out.

Eco-Fantasy Island

In 1998, British eco-pioneer Richard “Rishi” Sowa created his own private island by layering plywood, bamboo, and sand over giant nets filled with empty plastic bottles. Sowa’s Spiral Island featured a nest of cooling mangroves, three beaches, a solar oven and even a two-storey house with composting toilet.

Spiral Island floated peacefully off the coast south of Cancún until it was destroyed by Hurricane Emily in 2005.

Three years and about 100,000 bottles later, Spiral Island II was opened to visitors. It measures about 60 feet in diameter and is home to beaches, two ponds, a solar-powered waterfall, a house and a solar panel.

Knight in See-Through Armor

Designer Kosuke Tsumura fashioned a frugal-chic suit of armor by slicing up PET plastic bottles and sewing them together with transparent nylon thread. Free-thinking, fashion, and function in one… but probably not much protection against fire-breathing dragons.

PET There Be Light

Lighting designers are taking your downscale rejects and turning them into upscale home decor. UK-based designer Sarah Turner creates modern light fixtures out of 2-liter, Oasis and Coca-Cola bottles. Her regular-sized Cola 10 Lamp goes for £240.

People in Plastic Houses

In Puerto Iguazú, Argentina, the Santa Cruz family led the construction of a one-bedroom cottage made almost entirely of recycled materials. Over 1,200 two-litre plastic bottles were used to make the cottage walls, 1,300 Tetra Pak cartons went into the roof, and 140 CD cases became the windows. Want to keep up with the Santa Cruzes? The family conducts workshops on building homes from recycled materials.

In Kragujevac, Serbia, Math professor Tomislav Radovanovic spent five years building himself a (mostly) plastic home. The 60-meter square house has concrete foundations, but all the other parts – including the windows and the furniture – were built using 13,500 plastic bottles. Radovanovic’s students helped assemble the structure. Extra credit, much?

Whatever Floats Your Boat

In March 2010, Adventure Ecology founder David de Rothschild set sail on the 11,000-mile journey from San Francisco to Australia on a 60-foot catamaran made from metal and recycled plastic.

The Plastiki Expedition had twin hulls filled with 12,000 to 16,000 dry ice powder-packed soda bottles, and was propelled solely by wind sails. It arrived in Sydney Harbour on July 26, 2010.

Art Imitates Eco-Life

In recent years, ecology-minded artists have created some glorious plastic bottle art and installations.

The MSLK Watershed installation held in New York in June 2009 was an undulating display of bottles constructed to remind viewers of the environmental impact of consuming mass amounts of bottled water. 1,500 bottles went into the structure, which is the number of bottles consumed in the United States every second.

Sometimes eco-art is less political statement than sheer beauty. Miwa Koizumi uses plastic bottles and heat guns to create graceful aquatic PETs.

Go Green Racer, Go

Move over, Prius. SAMIMYS – an engineer who posts upcycling how-to videos on YouTube – creates miniature solar-powered cars out of empty plastic bottles. Check out the YouTube video here. Now if only there were plastic water bottles big enough to make full sized versions!


Have you heard of any other innovative ways people are using empty plastic bottles? How do you repurpose your empties? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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