Secrecy of lady-chrome-covered clothes
You wear cause you have no other
But I suppose no one knows
You're my plastic fantastic lover
Plastic may be fantastic for making stuff, from medical devices to fabrics and containers. And glass may be a smash when it comes to packaging beer and cherry cola. But both materials have major drawbacks, especially when it comes to the environment.
There's a mass of plastic floating in the ocean that's the size of Texas. While one plastic bag may be beautiful, zillions of them looks horrible. Despite the best efforts of environmentalists, barely 20% of plastic bottles are recycled. The situation has gotten worse recently, as many consumers and communities have suspended recycling in the wake of the recession.
The good news is that many plastic containers can be recycled -- though only a few times, before the polymers break down too much. Most communities take number 1 and 2 plastics (learn about recycling codes here), which is a good start. Contrary to some early reports and critics, recycling provides substantial savings in greenhouse gases, water and transportation, in case you were worried.
What about glass, you ask? In general glass has a pretty good reputation among greens (it does not contain toxic bisphenol A and it is really easy to recycle). However, as environmental author Elizabeth Royte pointed out at a recent talk, in reality many communities find glass difficult to recycle, because it is heavy and the material isn't worth very much, meaning there needs to be a local processor willing to buy it. At least glass in landfills is less likely to leach toxin by-products than many plastics (on the other hand the country's second largest glass manufacturer has been fined by the EPA for violating air pollution rules -- did you know glass manufacturing releases nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and asthma-aggravating particulates? Excellent!).
I don't mean to be a Debbie Downer, and it's clear we still want to eat and drink stuff. But you can help reduce the environmental impact by recycling as much as possible, buying products that come in recycled packaging, and using your own reusable containers as much as possible. Plastic bottles can be broken down by recyclers into their constituent polymers and fashioned into a wide range of goods, from fleece to funky chairs, from decking to compost bins, dress clothes to playground equipment, and cell phones to car paneling.
In addition, check out these creative ways people have recycled whole or partially broken glass and plastic bottles. We hope you'll get inspired like we did!
I've been seeing flattened wine bottle serving trays for years at funky eco-boutiques and in catalogs, and I've always thought they were pretty cool. They come in many different colors and labels, and can be used as paddles if someone forgot to bring the brie.
Talented artist Amanda Siska etches whimsical designs on recycled glass. These bottles are great for sauces, dish soap, or as vases. They come with corks and plastic pour spouts.
Siska has also worked with Autumn Comfort Candles to present all-natural candles in gorgeous containers made from hand-cut recycled wine bottles (the rim has been sanded smooth). The bottle-turned-jars are etched with your choice of design.
Choo Yut Shing/Flickr
Need some cheap yuletide cheer? Get some friends together, bring some used plastic bottles, and start cutting up!
Flickr user Choo Yut Shing snapped this design at Tanglin Mall in Singapore.
British artist Michelle Brand says the roots of her interests lie in sustainable waste management. She says she has "designed an aesthetic and decorative fabric from which most people in the Western World would perceive to be waste/rubbish."
What's it made out of? Why bottles of course! Specifically, plastic drink bottle bases, which have been cut, sanded and then tagged together. "I love seeing design opportunities where most people only see problems," wrote Brand.
We love the designs too!
Community artist Ilona Bryan says she has "done a lot of strange things with recycling plastic drinks bottles" over the years, although she apparently never thought of building walls. She snapped this photo of a natural sewage treatment area for Scotland's Earthship Fife.
The facility also has a greenhouse made in the same way, as well as various renewable energy and alternative building demonstration projects.
My buddy Brent's site recently had this item about an awesome solar water heater made from beer bottles. A Chinese farmer in Shaanxi province made the ingenious device out of 66 used beer bottles and some hose pipes. Way to go man!
Water flows slowly through the makeshift contraption, where it gets warmed by the sun. It's supposedly strong enough for three people to each take a nice hot shower every day. Apparently the invention has so impressed neighbors that other families have built their own.
People in Israel, the Caribbean, Central America and other places have long known the benefits of using free solar energy to heat water. In fact a law in oil-strapped Hawaii recently mandated that all new construction rely on solar water heaters.
The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Machynlleth, Wales seems like an inspiring place, with lots of learning opportunities on green building and technology. Lisa Davies took this shot of an impressive domed roof at CAT, made from recycled bottles. Reminds us of a porcupine!
The 'groundbreaking,' almost sci-fi structures known as Earthships are built of mud and reused material (tires, cans, and yes, bottles) -- but folks would be surprised to know how comfortable, cozy, and even beautiful they can be. They keep an even temperature, and often generate their own power, collect and recycle their own water and process their own waste. The idea may sound new, but people have been building walls from bottles since at least 1907, and probably much longer, likely back to the ancient world.
Jessica Reeder did a month-long internship at Earthship Biotecture, and had a fantastic time. She learned about catching rainwater, powering electronics with solar panels (even when it's cloudy!), and indoor greenhouses. Reeder loves the stained glass look of bottles in walls, and said they're easy to make: stack the bottles, cut with a tile saw, then tape the two fat ends together. Then you just cement them in, she says.
Here's a look at a cool bottle Earthship in Argentina.
Kosuke Tsumura / Final Home
I found something to go with my Nun Chucks: this suit of armor made from PET plastic bottles! Kosuke Tsumura, designer for the Final Home brand of urban clothing and accessories, made the suit by slicing up bottles and sewing the pieces together with Chuck Norris' tears, I mean transparent nylon thread.
Perfect for urban ninjas everywhere. (See more recycled costumes.)
For banking scion and adventuring environmentalist David de Rothschild, what's next after having dated Cameron Diaz? Why sailing half way around the world in a boat made from plastic bottles of course!
The Adventure Ecology founder hopes to launch the Plastiki Expedition in April, in order to raise awareness about recycling, waste and consumption. A team of scientists and explorers, led by de Rothschild, will try to sail the 11,000 miles from San Francisco to Australia on a 60-foot catamaran entirely made from recycled plastic (except for metal masts). The unique craft will be propelled solely by sails, and everything will be recycled, including the boat itself, assuming they complete the dangerous journey. Two wind turbines and solar panels will provide power for electronic equipment.
The Plastiki's twin hulls will be filled with 12,000 to 16,000 two-liter soda bottles, which are currently being washed and filled with dry-ice powder, which pressurizes them to make them rigid. A bit of woven PET fabric will tie the whole thing together.
I recently read Thor Heyerdahl's riveting Kon-Tiki, and wish de Rothschild and crew bon voyage. Hopefully they won't be hitting any reefs, and hopefully they will have the option of turning the thing around, if something or someone does fall overboard (poor parrot, he's with shuttle bat now).
David de Rothschild may think he's hot stuff (again, he dated Cameron Diaz), but he's actually biting the style of some Argentinean fishermen. Resourceful people in Viaje Norte built this seaworthy craft for daily use out of recycled material, including a big ol' mess of plastic bottles.
Proving that hope floats better than Sandra Bullock.
It is perhaps the ultimate dream, to inhabit your own island (unless you've seen Lord of the Flies, Lost, The Mysterious Island, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Swiss Family Robinson, Robin Crusoe, Castaway, Treasure Island, the Pirates of the Caribbean, Club Dread or Temptation Island). Perhaps not having encountered these works, British eco-pioneer Richart (or "Rishi") Sowa took to constructing his own artificial island in 1998, made with nets filled with empty discarded plastic bottles.
On top of the bottles went plywood and bamboo, then sand and even a nest of various plants, including mangroves, which helped keep the place cool. Sowa's so-called Spiral Island boasted a two-story house, solar oven and composting toilet, as well as three beaches. The mass floated in the Caribbean off Mexico until it was destroyed by Hurricane Emily in 2005. Not to be phased, Sowa then built a new Spiral Island II in Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
In perhaps the ultimate display of painstaking patience, Buddhist monks in Thailand built up an entire temple out of used beer bottles. Holy men in Sisaket province collected a million green Heineken and brown Chang beer bottles to build the Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple. Even the washrooms and the crematorium are built of bottles.
We're guessing Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew will not be hosting any AA meetings in it's basement. Though we do wonder if it whistles in high winds.
Another cool thing you can do with used bottles:
Hat tip to Lori Bongiorno of Yahoo Green for the idea.
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