A greenhouse offers a way to extend the growing season and cultivate fruits and vegetables that struggle during the cold months. Greenhouses, however, can be expensive to buy, difficult to build, costly to maintain and vulnerable to vandalism.
A structure made out of used plastic bottles – a concept devised by Scottish sustainable charity REAP – is an ideal solution. It is a project that everyone can get involved in too, including schools, groups and community organisations, because the basic blueprint can be adapted to make anything, from a pint-sized cold frame to a sizeable sun room.
With a few bits of timber, several bamboo canes and approximately 1,000 two-litre plastic drinks bottles – otherwise destined for landfill – gardeners all over the world are pulling out all the stops. The designs range from simple potting sheds on allotments, to outstanding mock-stained glass sun traps, to award-winning structures on display at the 2010 Chelsea Flower Show. The possibilities are clearly endless.
Meanwhile, plastic bottle greenhouses are popping up in school playgrounds across the UK. At Freemantle Infant School in Southampton, young eco-warriors were concerned about the amount of rubbish going into landfill, and how much time it takes for things to decompose. They also needed a greenhouse to sow seeds for the school’s vegetable plots, so they decided a structure made from old plastic bottles was the most efficient way to solve both matters in question.
“We collected bottles from parents and had a fantastic result,” say the pupils, “so we designed a large greenhouse and prevented over 1,700 plastic bottles going to landfill.” Inspired by the success of this project, the children went on to build a fully functioning bicycle shelter out of 1,000 unwanted video cassettes. “We’re going to have another collection of video tapes,” they add, “and build a buggy store for parents to keep prams dry and safe.” Freemantle School revealed to Positive News that one of their first-year students was overheard telling his parent: “We’re super eco; look what we made!” while a year-two student proudly reported: “We grew these seeds in our bottle house.”
Richard Bennett, from Fife’s environmental group Sustainable Communities Initiatives, designs and build all sorts of plastic bottle structures and he believes they are the perfect project for schools. “With lots of children to help gather the bottles and wash them, it’s a great re-use educational structure that really works,” he says. Through community workshops, members at Fife have also designed other buildings out of plastic bottles, such as bus shelters and playground screens that shield pupils from the winter weather.
As part of a new sustainability project, the National Botanic Garden of Wales are also building a plastic bottle greenhouse next to the schools’ allotment plots in their double walled garden. Leading the scheme is Jane Richmond, who said: “This is an ongoing project and anyone is welcome to come and see how we are getting on – as long as they bring some bottles that we can use!” Jane added: “We aren’t doing this just for show. This will be a functioning greenhouse, which will be used to grow plants in our education programmes. It may be made out of recycled drinks bottles but it’ll make a very efficient greenhouse.”
Meanwhile, an enterprising green team of volunteers at Linwood, near Glasgow, built their bottle greenhouse to help locals get more out of their community growing space. Schools, residents, groups and members of Renfrewshire Green Gym collected over 1,000 containers and spent the summer months constructing it. “The bottles act as double glazing,” says Julie Wilson, a Green Gym coordinator. “Now we can grow veg through the winter.”
Renfrewshire Green Gym offers local residents opportunities to improve their fitness levels by taking part in conservation activities, so the greenhouse was an ideal project to engage all its members. “The wonderful thing about Green Gym is that every day is totally different,” one resident remarked. “One day, we’ll do a litter pick and the next day is something completely different like building a bottle greenhouse. It’s so much fun.”
Detailed plans for building a plastic bottle greenhouse are available as a free download from REAP Scotland