Plastic bottles have been receiving plenty of negative press lately, and most of it has been well deserved. Plastic bottles typically have a one time use and then are either recycled or discarded, filling up landfills and our ocean. Recycling can help with the problem, but unfortunately only about 25% of the plastic produced in the U.S. is recycled.
The Dirty Side of Plastic
-According to the Recycling coalition:
-Plastic takes up to 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill.
-Recycling plastic takes 88% less energy than making plastic from raw materials.
-Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the Earth four times.
-Americans throw away 35 billion plastic bottles every year.
With 35 billion plastic bottles finding their way into landfills each year there is plenty of opportunity for improvement. One way that plastic bottles can be reused has the potential not only to minimize waste and pollution, but also provide food and income. Vertical farming using used plastic bottles has shown to be an effective, efficient and low cost method of plant production that can be adapted to a number of different environments.
How to Setup
There are a number of different methods that work with using plastic bottles in vertical farming. The basic concept is to mount the bottles in a manner that gives the desired crop enough space to grow, but close enough that the water can pass through from the top container down to the bottom ones. This helps to minimize water and nutrient waste as well as providing irrigation with as few parts as possible.
One of the main benefits of using plastic bottles in vertical farming is that it requires very little space to do so. In urban areas the availability and cost of land is often a major hurdle in setting up any type of farm or garden. With this method an exterior wall on a small building or house can be enough space for hundreds of plants that can be used to grow a multitude of crops. The very low materials cost is also a benefit in removing barriers to urban farming, as most of the needed materials can be found for free.
In setting up a vertical plastic bottle garden there are some limitations to consider. First is the aesthetics. While most people like the idea of reducing waste and reusing products, they may be less enthused to have their house covered in old Sprite bottles. Second, this method is not suitable for all types of crops. Smaller plants and leafy greens do very well, but large plants and ones with deep root systems are not suited for this type of growing. Location will also play a big role in what you can grow, and the length of the growing season Ideally the garden should be on a south facing wall to receive as much sunlight as possible. Finally, while this type of plastic bottle reuse helps to transform waste into a useful product, it only addresses the symptoms of a significant problem, and that is our continued demand for one-time use plastic products.
Despite some of the downfalls associated with plastics, I believe plastic bottle vertical farming has the potential to help with issues of food justice and equality. It provides a low cost, easily obtainable method to grow your own fruits and vegetables, without needing an open plot of land.