Earth Day will be celebrated April 22nd around the world- as it has been since it was founded on April 22, 1970 by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson. This year I am planning a few special “Earth friendly” Earth Day projects for the Horticultural Therapy and Crafting classes I teach to Seniors- although we reuse and recycle household items in our programs year-round.
Most of my students are still pretty frugal since they lived through the Depression and learned to make do with very little during that time. I’ve been told stories about how their Moms would make their underwear out of flour sacks, home gardens that provided most of their food during the war and how their Mothers would take a look at a formal gown in the store window and create an exact replica by hand when they did not have the money for store-bought clothes.
As part of my ongoing classes I already reuse and recycle a lot of commonly discarded household items including plastic water bottles, paper juice and milk cartons, gallon milk jugs, 2 liter plastic bottles, paper and plastic egg cartons, egg shells, paper towel tubes, brown paper bags and newspaper to name a few.
This article will focus on projects that reuse plastic drinking bottles. Plastic drinking bottles have a profoundly negative impact on our environment and are becoming a bigger problem each day. The World Wildlife Federation states that 1.5 million tons of plastic is used in bottling 89 billion liters of water each year. This process assists in the draining of the world’s fossil fuels and creates tons of trash that will take 70 to 450 years to degrade in our landfills. So every bottle we keep out of the landfill helps future generations. And we can all feel good about that!
Here are a few of the fun projects my classes have done in the past year to reuse all or part of a plastic drinking bottle:
- Game Board Markers– Drinking bottle caps can be used as game pieces for home made Bingo game markers. I created Butterfly Garden Bottle Cap Bingo that used bottle caps as spot markers on the Bingo cards. The Bingo Cards were printed on 8.5 x 11 sheets and were laminated using shelf liner vinyl- so they are reusable. Bottle caps were decorated with fun flower and bug stickers. Seniors love their Bingo so this was a great way to teach my students the names of the different plants that grow well in our area that will draw butterflies to their garden.
- Paper mache vases-This activity actually reuses two common items that go into the landfill every day- plastic bottles and newspaper. We covered the plastic drinking bottles with several layers of strips of newspaper dipped in liquid starch (you can also use watered down glue or a flour mixture). Then we painted the bottles with acrylic paints and a coat of Modge Podge and decorated them with yarn, beads, buttons, glass beads and other materials. The vases are waterproof so they can be used to display fresh, dried or silk flowers.
- Seedling or Cutting Starters– First cut the Plastic Bottle in half. Punch a few drainage holes in the bottom of the bottom half of the bottle then fill with soil and plant cuttings or seeds to create inexpensive mini greenhouses. Use the top half of the bottles as small plant cloches to protect tiny seedlings you have planted in seed beds.
- “Grass Head Guys”- Cut plastic bottle in half. Use the bottom half of the bottle as the base for your “Grass Head Guy” project – later it will be filled with water so the grass will grow. This is a homemade version of a Chia Pet where you fill a knee high stocking foot (can also use recycled pantyhose) with grass seed and soil and it kind of looks like a little potato-head when it is decorated. The Bottom half of the bottle can be decorated in lots of fun ways as the body of your “Grass Head Guy”.
These activities are great for Seniors who live in Assisted Living or Memory Care Residences- although many of my Independent Seniors also enjoyed making the Paper Mache Vases and Seedling Starters. And some of the activities would be great multi-generational projects for children and Seniors to do together.