6 Ways to Reuse Plastic Bottles

DIY geometric lamp shade

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Let’s take a trip down memory lane to fifth grade science class. Besides getting a wicked kick of caffeine from that 2-liter bottle of Surge, those plastic bottles also made grade A materials to reuse as seedling planters and tornado hourglasses.

Are you ready for a new project? We’ve gathered together six projects that reuse plastic bottles for decorative, fun, and practical results. Who knew you could reuse plastic bottles in so many ways? Ranging from an easy-to-make vase to an informative, kid-friendly science project to a challenging, intricate lampshade, one of these projects is sure to appeal to a DIYer you know!

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1. Woven plastic bottle vase

We start out with an easy project from wikiHow. Their step-by-step instructions show you how to reuse a plastic bottle to make a vase. From a distance, you would never guess this vase was plastic. Plus, it’s virtually unbreakable and you can recycle it if you decide to redecorate. You could also use it as a small bowl for holding spare change or odds and ends.

plastic bottle vase

A project for less than $5: All you need to make this fancy-looking vase is a soda bottle and pair of scissors. Photo: Wikihow

Difficulty level: Beginner

What you’ll need: 20-ounce soda bottle, scissors, pencil (for marking)

How to make it:

  1. Mark and cut the smooth middle portion of the bottle to give an even edge that’s approximately 7.5 to 8 centimeters (around 3 inches) above desired position of fluted rim.
  2. Measure and mark straight, evenly spaced cuts all the way around the bottle. Cut the segments in half; then cut each of those in half to make even, thin strips.
  3. Carefully press and fold all the strips outward to make a level edge all the way around. Press the bottle upside down on a flat surface to ensure an even edge.
  4. Weave the tip of a strip over the next one and under the next two. Fold and crease it so that the tip stays in place (see photos on WikiHow for a visual representation. We promise it isn’t as hard as it sounds).
  5. Fold and crease the next one the same way, but weave this one over two and under one. Fold the third strip and weave the same as the first one. Continue around in this pattern until the last three and tuck each one under the next until woven in completely.

Bonus tip: Add a touch of color by using green soda bottles.

2. Plastic bottle lamp

We have seen a lot of ways to make lamps out of plastic bottles, but this is by far the most believable (and by that, we mean it doesn’t look like an Evian bottle with a light bulb shoved into the top).

This design by Popular Science reuses plastic bottles as a mold for the lamp’s base. Using the “smart-looking shapes” of detergent bottles as inspiration, this retro design dates is reminiscent of the 1960s.

plastic bottle lamp

This project comes from a Popular Science project that dates back to 1961. Photo: Joel Barnard/Popular Science

Difficulty level: Advanced

What you’ll need: plastic bottle, X-acto knife, drill, Vaseline, hollow threaded rod, hot glue gun, prescription medicine bottle, Smooth-On 305, fine-grit sandpaper, flat washer, lock washer, nut, lamp cord, lamp shade, lamp socket

How to make it: Popular Science outlines this project in its 12-step photo guide. The entire thing will run you around 50 bucks.

Bonus tips:

  • The ideal plastic bottle for this project still keeps its shape after all the liquid has been removed. So, don’t choose one that’s thin and flimsy.
  • Look for bottles with minimal surface detail. Before starting the project, peel off the label. You’ll find you bottle may be textured, but according to the author, this won’t help with your design.

3. Plastic bottle beads

For this project, we’re literally giving you the materials to make some even more rad designs — from jewelry creations to beaded door coverings.

The instructions below come from Lindsay The Frugal Crafter. We found some other cool tips and photos in this Instructables tutorial on making a recycled plastic bead bracelet from Rhonda Chase Design.

plastic beads made from plastic bottles

The plastic bead project is just the beginning of other rad designs. Think outside the bottle! Photo: The Frugal Crafter

Difficulty level: Moderate

What you’ll need: plastic bottle, scissors, permanent markers, heat gun, needle-nose pliers

How to make it:

  1. Wash and cut plastic bottles into strips that are about 1 centimeter wide.
  2. Color plastic strips with permanent marker. (You could even add a drip of golden paint, if you have it on hand.)
  3. Roll up plastic tightly with inked side facing inwards. This may be easier if you wrap it around a toothpick or skewer. Secure the coiled plastic with pliers.
  4. Use heat gun for about 20 seconds until the plastic shrinks and holds its shape. Let it cool before touching.

Bonus tips:

  • If you don’t have a heat gun, a hair dryer will work as well.
  • If you don’t have a steady hand to draw shapes on your beads with your markers, don’t worry! Different colored scribbles work great. In fact, you can have your kids help with this step.

4. Soda bottle coin purse

If you consider zippers a fashion statement, this snazzy project is for you. This design for a zippered soda bottle coin purse comes from WikiHow.

Difficulty level: Moderate

What you’ll need: two plastic bottles of the same size, zipper, nylon thread, scissors or craft blade, thin needle, thick needle to punch holes, tape or sewing pins

How to make it:

  1. Select two plastic bottles that are the same shape and size.
  2. Cut off the bottoms of two clean plastic bottles just above the molded line. Then trim away any jagged edges with scissors.
  3. Use a thick needle or metal awl to punch holes about 1/2 inch apart along the cut edge of  one bottle piece.
  4. Holding the zipper inside the marked bottle piece, secure one side of the zipper with tape or sewing pins.
  5. Sew the zipper to to the bottle piece using the punched holes, removing the tape or pins as you sew.
  6. Open the zipper and sew it to the inside of the other bottle piece. Your coin purse is now ready to be decorated.

Bonus tips:

  • If the edges are still jagged after you’ve cut your two pieces, use sandpaper or a nail file to smooth the edges.
  • When securing the zipper to the cut bottle pieces, align the zipper teeth with the cut edge of each piece.
  • Be sure to check out WikiHow’s tips for decorating the coin purse.

5. DIY lava lamp

OK, we’ll admit that this design from Little Bins for Little Hands doesn’t have the zing that your old $40 lamp had, but it’s a fun rainy day  project. Science Bob offers additional information to turn this project into a science experiment for the kids.

DIY lava lamp

Perhaps not the traditional lava lamp you remember, but it’s a fun project for the little ones. Image: Science Bob

Difficulty level: Beginner

What you’ll need: plastic water bottle, vegetable oil, funnel, water, food coloring, Alka Seltzer (or generic brand) tablets

How to make it:

  1. Remove the label and wash your bottle.
  2. Using the funnel, pour vegetable oil into the bottle until it’s about two-thirds full.
  3. Fill the bottle the rest of the way with water.
  4. Add a few drops of food coloring.
  5. Break up the Alka Selzer (or generic equivalent) into pieces small enough to fit through the bottle opening. Drop them into the bottle and watch the magic!

Bonus tips:

  • Make sure your kids observe what happens when you add the water to the oil.
  • Experiment with different sized bottles, colors, and the level of oil in each “lava lamp.”
  • If you don’t have Alka Seltzer, just secure the cap to the bottle with glue or masking tape and let the kids see how the oil and water never mix.

6. Geometric lampshade

You’ve probably seen these lampshades around but may not have known you can make your own by reusing plastic bottles. This one starts out easy, but takes a bit more brain power to assemble, so be patient; it’s worth the effort! You can assemble the pieces in a variety of final shapes. Find the full instructions in Instructables’ universal lamp shade polygon building kit.

DIY geometric lamp shade

Reuse plastic bottles to make this stunning geometric lampshade. Credit: Instructables

Difficulty level: Advanced

What you’ll need: Tracing design (get it here), PET (number 1) plastic bottles, a light socket on a cord (try Ikea), LED bulb (LEDs don’t get as hot as incandescent or CFL bulbs so they won’t melt the plastic — plus, they last much longer!)

How to make it:

  1. Trace your pieces and cut them using scissors or a knife. If you’re really advanced, you can also make a “cookie cutter” out of sheet metal in the shape of the part. Then heat the cutter and use it to stamp out the parts. (Let us know how that works out.)
  2. The assembly will be the hardest part. Instructables recommends just fitting the parts together first and experimenting to get the right geometric shape. Be sure that the corners of each cutout fit neatly together. Note that there really isn’t a way to make concave corners, only convex corners.
  3. Cut slots into the corners of the pieces so they can neatly fit together. Warning: This can get really frustrating, so don’t give up!

Bonus tips:

  • Make sure you use the same kind of plastic for all of your pieces. The number of bottles you need depends on size of your lampshade.
  • The stiffness of your plastic determines how large your pieces can be — stiffer material for larger pieces and larger lampshades, thinner material for smaller pieces and smaller lampshades.

Feature image courtesy of Instructables.

Editor’s note: Originally published on July 26, 2010, this article was updated in February 2020.

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Comments

  1. Hi

    Wow I read about the amazing stories about the new entrepeneurs that have made their bank balance a little prettier. I have an idea and would like to know what process must I under go to melt the plastic colddrink bottles or the plastic containers we buy salads in or a piece of cake you might have bought from the general store? I would like to mould the PETE into another container for reuse. Can anyone out there help me how I do that? Needless to say I cannot afford to have a huge recycling place that must first be washed, then crushed, then what ever the next step is……………..
    Please help, as I would love to be the next entrepeneur to clean up the world.

  2. Definitely some good DIY ideas here. I thought I’d toss in another reason to go the reuse route as opposed to recycling for plastic containers.

    “Only ~6% of all plastic waste in the US actually gets recycled” – I was really quite shocked when I read this stat the other day, but the simple fact is that the vast majority of plastic resins can not be recycled. Bottles or plastic #1 tend to have a bit better recycling rate, but most plastic just doesn’t get recycled and if it does it’s downcycled into plastic lumber of textiles”;

    Reuse or Reduce are definitely the better options here.

  3. Also, I have a good use for them. Once emptied, I refill it with water and freeze it. For someone with a husband who works outside all day, it’s a lifesaver!

  4. What great ideas to recycle plastic bottles! I’m working on the lamp one right now and it’s turning out really nice. Any ways that we can recycle is great.

  5. This is a great reuse for empty plastic containers. It’s a simple patented technology callled the Eco Connect Bottle System. Instead of winding up in landfills, empty plastic beverage containers featuring this simple patented technology begin a new journey as creative educational toys or as building insulation in third world countries or countries that need to rebuild due to a national disaster.

    If water bottles featuring this technology were donated to Haiti, the children could build simple toys and soccer goals from the empties. Then the empties could be utilized as building insulation to help rebuild the nation. Right now, the millions of water bottles that were donated to Haiti are just clogging up their landfills.

  6. Love these ideas! I’m gonna try the purse and maybe the geometric lamp shade. Thanks for sharing, its always fantastic to see innovative ideas to limit what “rubbish” goes into landfills. Here in Mauritius, they barely do any sort of recycling. It’s painful to throw things in the bin because you know its going to end up in a landfill on the island. How wrong is that…

  7. Just to let people know I’m an unemployed person like alot of others and instead of sitting around waiting on the phone I’ve been picking up all kinds of plastics from bottles to toys alumimun cans and metal my next step is to become a plastic recycling process center it takes capital and equipment any cans and plastic and metal will be greatly excepted I would like to be able to show people where their trash and material go and what it is being used for

  8. Why not just recycle all the plastic. Someone could go around and collect the plastic jugs at the homes. Just like pennies if everyone cashed in their pennies they wouldn’t have to coin anymore pennies.

  9. hello i would like to know how to make the plastic bottle lampshade where could i find the pettern and instruction to make it and answer please in my e-mail thank you

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