Zero Waste Home: How to "Recycle" Waste That Can't be Recycled with Bottle Bricks
A Zero Waste Home probably sounds impossible. You might already recycle properly and compost your compostables, but what about the other little things that come into your home? Plastic wrappers, miscellaneous styrofoam that sneaks in, the foil wrappers from snacks...you can't compost them or recycle them, so what can you do?
This is where "bottle bricks" come into play. It's a bigger step, for sure, but it is also a fun, creative, and conversational step. It can be a great way to create awareness in friends or family, or even create a community effort at schools, community centers, churches, etc.
I was first introduced to bottle bricking our trash by our wonderful friends, Clint and Angela Malson, and their EcoWomb tour and their Zero Waste home education. They showed us how they created absolutely no waste in their family of 6 by reducing, reusing, recycling, composting, and then taking everything that was left and making bricks from them.
It's really actually pretty simple. The directions below will not only show you how to recycle waste you would otherwise throw away, but what to do with it when you're done.
What Exactly is a Bottle Brick?
These bottles are them used for sustainable building projects, anything from park benches to play structures to homes. (Some ideas are shown below!)
Here are some ideas of what you might have lying around that you can put into a bottle brick:
- Plastic grocery bags
- Plastic breads bags
- Plastic cling wrap
- Plastic wrappers (from food, printer paper, etc)
- Styrofoam (usually cut into pieces)
- Packing peanuts
- Cigarette butts
- Old magnets
- Thin plastic wrapping (like you see over new DVDs)
- Twist ties
- Zip ties
- Dental floss
- Rubber bands
- Old pens or pencil stubs
- High gloss paper
- Foil wrappers from snacks
- Kitty litter (dry with no feces)
Basically, if you can't recycle or compost it, it's clean and dry (or can be made so), isn't food of any type, and can be made to fit in your bottle, it'll work!
How To Make Them Yourself
Making a bottle brick is pretty easy. Here's what you'll need:
- Plastic bottles: It's best to use sturdier bottles, such as what your juice might come in. In general, small plastic water bottles are best as they can be flimsy and don't hold up well to the stuffing. But larger water bottles, sports drink bottles (with a larger mouth), or half gallon bottles are great. The kind of "boxy" bottles are also good for building with later on.
- A Wooden Dowel: This is helpful to stuff the bottles tightly. I like the idea from Earth Bench to use something like a tennis ball at the end to give your hand some padding.
- Material to Stuff: You can choose to throw it all in one box and stuff bottles when the box gets full, or stuff the bottles as you have waste. It's important that the waste is relatively clean and dry, so be sure to rinse and allow anything to dry overnight before stuffing it.
If you're doing your bottle bricking all at once (saving waste material until you have enough to stuff several bottles), you might want to try a "stuffing party" with the family (or any unsuspecting friends you can get in on the action). We especially like to involve any teen boys who might like to use up some of that testosterone hanging around. The first phase of stuffing is simple and great for smaller kids to do, since it's not difficult to get the bottle filled most of the way. But once you get going you'll need a strong arm to really pack it tightly. You might also consider adding some sand as you go (just a little bit and jostling it around a little to get it worked into the nooks of the bottle).
Once you can no longer get any more trash into the bottle, it's a good idea to pass it around to see if anyone else can make space. When no more space can be made and no one can squeeze the bottle any longer (it's as hard as a brick!), put the cap back on and you're done!
It's a good idea to have a place in your Zero Waste Home (such as an empty box in the shed) to store your bottle bricks until you're ready to use them.
Uses For Bottle Bricks
The favorite use for bottle bricks is building! You can use the bricks for benches, play areas, water catchments, buildings, awnings, and more to add to your zero waste home.
Earthbench.org gives step-by-step instruction on how to:
- Create a foundation
- Earthbag with your bricks
- Cob your brick walls
- Plaster your walls
- And even ideas on roofing
Think about how you can use them in your own backyard: a child's playhouse, a compost bin that blends into the surroundings, a tool shed, benches around a firepit or in the garden, a bird bath, and on and on.
Check out the photos and video below for more inspiring ideas to recycle waste with bottle bricks and create a zero waste home.
Worried that you won't have use for the bricks you create? Save them! It often takes a long time for a single zero waste home (who is already precycling, recycling, or composting, of course!) to fill a large box with bottle bricks. By the time you have a box full, you may have a project for them, or you may be able to donate them to a local project. Also don't forget to reach out to schools and community centers, offer to teach others how to maintain their own Zero Waste Home, and maybe even create a local drop-off where the bricks can be used for school or community projects. Or reach out to places such as EarthBench.org and BottleBrick.com for any donation locations that may crop up around the country or the world.