BY: KATY WILLIS
Recycling only goes so far. Actually, it can cause environmental harm in its own right as chemical-heavy matter is melted and processed during recycling to form new items. That’s not to say you shouldn’t recycle; recycling is better than feeding the landfill. However, repurposing is greener and can save you an awful lot of money. With a little creativity, you can reuse a whole host of household items that you’d normally recycle and turn them into other useful items. This doesn’t mean we should all become hoarders. Instead, by strategically choosing what you repurpose and recycling the rest, you can protect the earth—and your bank balance.
Build a Plastic Bottle Greenhouse
Plastic bottles from packaged water and pop overflow the recycling bins of many households and, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, “In 2012, the United States generated almost 14 million tons of plastics [from] containers and packaging.”Only nine percent of that figure was recovered for recycling. Billing repurposing as a direct-benefit alternative to recycling programs may help to spark the interest of careless citizens.
Traditional greenhouses are costly and fragile but provide numerous benefits to owners by shaving digits off grocery store bills. With minimal effort and even smaller investment, you can build a plastic bottle greenhouse with maintenance that entails walking to the garage for another plastic bottle should one break.
All you need to do is remove the bottle caps and labels and cut off the curved bottom of each bottle. Take six-foot garden canes and thread the bottles onto each cane, with the top of one bottle sitting snugly into the bottom of the one below. Build supporting frames for the canes and staple the filled canes to the support frames. Place four supporting posts at each corner of the final greenhouse site and cement them in place. Once dry, mount the filled frames to the supporting posts.
Realistically, the most time-consuming aspect of building the greenhouse is collecting the bottles—you’ll need about 1,500 of them for an eight-by-six-foot greenhouse. Seventy million plastic water bottles are consumed each day, according to the Container Recycling Institute, so don’t let a mere 1,500 discourage you.
Consider Living in an Earthship
Earthships are also an ultra-green alternative to traditional energy-hogging homes. They are essentially self-sustaining living spaces that use the elements around them for essentials like heat, water, and electricity. The walls of an Earthship are constructed of discarded tires filled with compressed earth; the space between the tires is filled with earth and concrete. To make the space attractive, the interior and exterior are covered in plaster, stucco, or adobe.
Earthships have a long front, usually made of glass that faces south to take advantage of natural sunlight. During the cooler months, the sunlight not only penetrates the windows and warms the immediate internal space, but also heats the earth-filled tires sitting in the walls. These tires act as thermal mass and make for very effective insulation. As the temperature in the room drops lower than the temperature of the walls, the tires slowly release their heat into the room. This south-facing glass portion can also double as a greenhouse for year-round growing of fruits and vegetables.
Earthships not only eliminate the need for natural gas heating; with solar panels mounted on the roof, rainwater harvesters, and the ability to use bioretention and wetland plants to treat sewage and purify water, they are the key to living completely off the grid.
Build a Tin Can Stove
Now that you have repurposed your plastic to create a greenhouse to keep you fed and your rubber to create a self-sustainable shelter, you will need a stove to cook your meals. By using two tin beverage containers and simple tools found in every household, you could build a stove that runs exclusively on small amounts of denatured alcohol.
By repurposing materials usually discarded as waste and using them as raw materials for self-sustainability projects, you will have officially transcended the socially engrained tradition of overconsumption. Let’s be honest—there is something ironic about using a plastic Coca-Cola bottle to build an environmentally friendly greenhouse.
Start repurposing and get creative.