Before we get started, let's lay down some basic information: As this article was in its "research" phase, Earth911 asked a number of people about cool ideas they had for saving money by reusing plastic bottles. A majority of those responded answered: "Don't buy them."
Contrary to popular belief, this isn't the best response.
Even if you're into reusable bottles (which we love!), you use plastic bottles every day, perhaps without even thinking about it. Shampoo, face wash, laundry detergent, lotion, milk and juice are just a few of the many products we use on a daily basis that are often packaged in plastic bottles.
An easy choice when you're done with your bottles is to recycle them. But what if you're looking to save a little coin? This month, try to recover a few bucks by utilizing that ever-so-handy material: the plastic bottle.
1. Got a Deposit Law? Use it!
It may sound simple, but don't spend more money than you have to by not redeeming your bottles. If you live in a state that has a deposit system that includes plastic bottles, you're already paying a little extra for every purchase of an applicable bottle.
If you live in one of the states below, we're talkin' to you:
- New York
Think of it this way: A 5-cent deposit on a 24-pack of soda is an extra $1.20 per pack that you could recover. Also, according to our fancy schmancy estimates, during 2008, Californians didn't return more than 3 billion PET (#1 plastic) bottles in 2008. At a 5-cent deposit, you can do the math about how much went unclaimed.
While the amount Californians did recycle amounted to saving almost 7.2 million barrels of oil, according to the California Resources Agency Department of Conservation, a great deal more could have been collected in their wallets.
So, while the hassle of lugging your stuff to the local recycling center or reverse vending machine may be a deterrent, why lose out on all that cumulative cash?
2. Buy in Bulk
We're not talking about superstore bulk purchases here, but rather buying one container, then continually refilling it.
A perfect example of a system like this that's probably handy in your area is using a water machine, whereby you buy a jug and refill it at that machine for your drinking water. It's much cheaper compared to buying individual bottles, and you save on the waste that could have been created.
Also, other daily products are available in bulk, like shampoo or laundry detergent. Typically, you can refill your bottles at organizations like co-ops ("cooperatives"), many of which provide bulk product sales.
Think co-ops are just for the "sandals and granola" crowd? U.S. cooperatives serve some 120 million members, or 4 in 10 Americans. Worldwide, some 750,000 cooperatives serve 730 million members, according to the National Cooperative Business Association.
Tips for buying in bulk:
- Know your co-op - "Co-op" is a term that can denote hundreds of different types of organizations, and what's offered by each varies greatly. For example, the Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco and the 4th Street Food Co-op in NYC offer distinctive products, services and have different membership requirements, so be sure to know what's available in your area.
- Go local - The Cooperative Grocer hosts a national directory of co-ops that sell produce. Some sell personal care products as well, so check out what's offered near you.
- Tare your containers - To "tare" basically means to adjust for the weight of your containers. So, weigh your (preferably empty) containers when you first arrive at the store, and they'll write the weight on the outside. This way, you have an accurate measure and you can ensure the store will accept it. Then, when you're paying for whatever products are inside based on their weight, the cashier can subtract the price for your container.
- See if you can sell - Some co-ops sell products made by their members and the surrounding community. Check out some of our fun reuse projects below, and maybe you can earn some extra cash!
3. Get Creative
Ok, so we suggest "getting creative" a lot. Whether it's using T-shirts, jeans or even shipping containers in a new way, reusing your old stuff to make new (and probably cooler) items is an exciting prospect in saving money and reducing your waste.
Here are some of our favorite creative reuse ideas for plastic bottles:
- Fill Your Tank - According to The Green Cheapskate, using plastic bottles to displace water in your toilet tank is a better way to reduce the amount of water in your flushes than using bricks (which can start to break down over time). By simply filling a few plastic bottles with water and dropping them in your tank, you could save 16 gallons of water per day for a household of four. This could nix $90 annually on your water bill and costs pennies to implement.
- Birds and Bees - According to Afrigadget, artists in Kenya are reusing plastic bottles as cool bird feeders. Some even use mirrors to attract our flying friends and have multiple levels with perches and places to eat the seeds inside. Also, we love this Instructables project by Shortone, which transforms old bottles into beautiful butterflies.
- Fun for All Seasons - So, you may not be frolicking on the beach right now as fall is in full swing. But we love this simple laundry detergent bottle reuse idea from Fun in the Making, a green crafting Web site by Hester Jane Burch. And for Halloween, Burch also creates ghoulish lights and party favors from single-serving milk bottles that are so fun, it's scary!
4. Ask Around
Believe it or not, the people around you might know a thing or two about saving money, especially in today's economy. We asked some of our Facebook Fans and friends for suggestions on how to reuse plastic bottles and received awesome tips in reply. Here are some highlights:
- @Janelle Sorensen: Here are some great craft ideas. Oh, and the Daily Green has some great ideas. And one of my fave sites, Apartment Therapy, has great ideas, too. Thank goodness for the collective wisdom of the Internets
- @Lori March: I use gallon size bottles as plant pots (cut the top off, at the level where the bottle levels out & put 3 - 5 holes in the bottom, pot the plant, soak the roots in a mild mixture of roottone - or water with roottone, place on a bowl to protect your table; i use old shirts as covers for them, i take the fabric,place the empty bottle on it, draw the fabric up around the bottle, mark the fabric so cut off excess, and then use a kid & pet safe glue to hold the fabric to the bottle, make sure it's dry before you pot your plant).
So, whether you're in a bottle bill state or just looking for some fun and crafty reuse ideas, the sky's the limit when it comes to saving money with everyday plastic bottles. Keep your eyes open for opportunities we missed, and feel free to share them below!