8 DIY Survival Projects Out of Plastic Bottles

Survival Projects Out of Plastic Bottles

Once you get started, reusing plastic bottles becomes second nature. Sure, you can use them for bulk storage, but survival usually comes down to food production. Here are eight ideas.

Handled Composter/Vermicomposter

milk jug

Nothing nourishes like worm-dirt. Nothing. Nature loads worm castings with calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium, pretty much everything plants need to grow. An 80-20 mix of worm castings-to-soil maximizes plant growth.

On the other hand, one big worm bin can be more difficult to schedule and less manageable than a lot of small ones. In addition, compost bins can be pretty messy and loaded with infectious bugs you might not want getting on cuts, or breathing in. The solution is easy enough. Cut the tops off of milk jugs. Leave the handles on and poke some drainage holes in the bottom of each jug.

That way, you can start and harvest them sequentially as mini-bins as your livestock expands and you never have to get your hands dirty. A 1/8”-1/4” screen easily separates the worm castings from the worms and cocoons. A bottom row made the same way, but without the drain holes captures the valuable compost tea. Remember to wear a dust mask when handling compost. An aspergillus infection could wreck your whole survival plan.

Double Hanging Planter

Double Hanging Planter 1

These days, any garden shop carries hanging planters for about $20 apiece, but why spend money on something you can make for free? Cut the bottom off a 2-liter soda bottle or milk jug. Put the root mass of a seedling tomato or pepper plant through the center of a 4”x4” square piece of plastic wrap or sheeting, then slide that up through the neck of the jug. Spread out the plastic then fill the neck of the jug about half-full with some smooth pebbles. Fill to about three-quarters full with soil and compost and attach to a wall, fence, or post. Then fill it most of the way to the top. That leaves another planting space available on top. Don’t plant multiple tomatoes or peppers in one planter or none of them will produce, but lettuce and mustard will do fine for a double crop.

Self-Watering Planter

sub irrigated

Hanging planters maximize space, but they use more water than growing in ground. Sub-irrigated or self-watering planters solve the water problem, but they cost a fortune at the garden shop. Luckily, they’re simple, too. To make one, measure upward 5” from the bottom of a 2-liter soda bottle and cut it straight across. The bottom of the bottle forms the reservoir. With a little wicking fabric to hold in the dirt, the top forms the planter. Two- 1”x4” strips of Pellon Thermolam inserted up through the neck of the bottle works great as a wick, but plain old burlap works fine, too. Remember to get the wick all the way to the bottom of the base to minimize the amount of watering. Use soil or a few pebbles to secure the wick in the top. Then fill with soil and set your seedlings. Although the planter is self-watering, it will still need to be watered every couple of weeks, or so.

Seed Starter

seed starter

A similar trick can be used to make a first-rate seed starter. Measure upward 5” from the bottom of a standard soda bottle and cut it straight across. Add some pea gravel to the base. Follow that with a circle of burlap as a wick and top it off with soil. Add water until you see it hit the top of the gravel. Then add your seeds. The top of the bottle makes a good greenhouse cover so your plants will be ready as soon as the weather warms up in spring.

Spring Seedling Cover

Spring Seedling Cover

If the plants from your seed starter are still small enough, its top can be used as a spring seedling cover. If they’ve gotten too big, the top of a 2-liter bottle can be used, instead. Either will protect your precious new plants from the elements by serving as a mini-greenhouse, or from common pests like birds, deer, or rabbits. Remember to lay down a ring of diatomaceous earth around the plants to deter slugs and other insect pests. They like the nice warm climate in your mini-greenhouse, too.



Now that you’ve mastered the idea that empty plastic bottles can be cut and chained together, consider a serious booster for your food production, a greenhouse. Using some PVC or HDPE, connectors, adhesive, and free bottles, a greenhouse like one of these is a snap (see link):

Plastic Bottle Greenhouses

Using free materials not only cuts the cost of increasing food production, but learning it comes with an added benefit. There’s no reason not to build directly with your plumbing. Why do the work twice?

Heat Sink


In addition to building with plumbing, water has the further advantage of being an incredible heat sink. Water stores 1 BTU/lb-degree F. If you have one pound of water and heat it from 50 degrees to 80 degrees you have stored 30 free BTUs. All of those empty water bottles can store free solar energy to heat your greenhouse, garage, or workshop. Old bicycle water bottle holders are ideal for fixing the bottles to a wall. Using distilled water avoids bacteria growth. Dark-colored bottles will store more heat. In a greenhouse, adding thermal mass means year-round food supply.

Cheap Heliostats


One thing about plastic bottles that seldom gets mentioned is that they reflect light just like a mirror. Add a little water and they downright sparkle. That can mean extra light for the shady side of the garden and a bigger harvest every fall. Rack mounted on bright-white painted plywood, they can even do double duty, as a heliostat during growing season, and as thermal mass to heat the house during the winter.

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