How to Repurpose Bottles

It is sad to know that any place on earth that has seen human visitors will likely have litter strewn about. You can also bet that any place with salt or fresh water will probably have trash along the shore. As frustrating as it is to know that man has treated the earth so poorly, it is also reassuring to know that there are plenty of survival materials within that garbage.

One of the most common types of trash you will find anywhere you travel are bottles. Both plastic and glass bottles seem to be the most likely garbage you will find, and this is good news in a survival situation. These containers have dozens of uses if you know how to use them in their current form and also how to use the materials from which they are made. By the end of this article you will think twice about walking past bottles in the future.

First I would like to discuss repurposing ideas that work for both plastic and glass bottles. These are typically going to be uses that keep the bottle in its original form.

  • Purify Water – This can be done using the rays of the sun or with a small fire. If you fill a clear plastic bottle with water and set it out in the sun for six hours, it will kill several types of bacteria and parasites. In fact, this method works as well as most water filters. As long as you heat the water slowly, you can boil water in either a plastic or glass bottle. Leave the lid off for steam to escape and suspend it above the fire with cordage. You want the tips of the flames to barely lick the bottom of the bottle. Plastic will start to bow at the bottom, but it should not leak any water.
  • Create a Float – Floats work great for fishing and fish trapping to both indicate when a fish has been caught and to keep bait at a certain depth. This works by trapping air in a plastic or glass bottle and capping the top. You can also use floats to help you swim if you have a long distance to traverse. Once capped, put several in a bag or attach them with duct tape and hold on as you swim. This will help you increase buoyancy.
  • Dry Cache – When in a survival situation, certain materials must stay dry. This would include matches, lighters, and tinder for fire-starting, maps for navigation, cash, and important documents. Inside a capped glass or plastic bottle is the perfect spot to keep these supplies dry.
  • Early Alert System – In many survival situations evading capture is vital. At some point you have to get some sleep, but how do you sleep in the wilderness and stay alert? Rig a trip line around the perimeter of your camp. Then attach glass or plastic bottles with small stones in the bottom. Leave the top open so sound can escape. If a person or animal trips on your wire, the rattle from the bottles with wake you and give you a chance to run.
  • Create a Lantern – In many cases people have access to light that is just not ideal for lighting a room or the inside of a shelter. A flashlight or headlamp directs light in a narrow beam. Sunlight helps, but again is only directed in a beam if you have a small opening for it to enter. If you fill a clear glass or plastic jug with water and direct your beam of light into the jug, it will disperse the light throughout the room.
  • Start a Fire – If you fill a clear glass or plastic bottle with water and direct strong sunlight through the water, it will create a beam that is strong enough to light tinder. You have to have a cloudless day for this to work, and you will have to adjust the angle of your bottle lens and the distance from your tinder to get a small point of focus. Your tinder needs to be especially dry and fluffy with a low flash point.

Next are the uses that work specifically for plastic bottles:

  • Cordage – Most plastic bottles can be cut into long thin strips of cordage. If you cut off the bottom of the bottle, you can start cutting around the circumference in an even strip. I suggest a thickness around ¼ inch. You can always weave three strands together if you need more strength out of your cordage.
  • Bulletproof Your Body or Your Shelter – Believe it or not, a plastic bottle filled with dirt is actually better protection than bricks or cinder blocks when bullets are flying. You can reinforce doors, windows, or walls with these bottles. You can also tape them together to create body armor in a jam.
  • Mini Garden – If you cut the top off of your plastic bottles, you can make planting pots for veggies or herbs. Cut slits in the bottom to let excess water escape. Then fill with potting soil and plant your seeds or seedlings. If you have larger plants or fruit trees that need irrigation, bottles can help as well. Fill one with water and put the cap back on. Punch holes in the top to release the amount of water you like. Then hang over the base of the plant or shove the cap end directly into the soil.
  • Fish Trap – Fish are easily confused, so funneling them into a trap can work well. Cut off the top of your bottle just below the taper. Then to target larger fish you can cut the opening on the cap end to be a bit larger. Reverse the remaining funnel and shove it back into the base. You can secure with cordage or tape and then put bait in the bottom. Use a weight to secure it to the bottom of your stream and add a float to make it easier to find. The fish will swim in and will not be able to find their way out.
  • Water Filter – To draw contaminants out of drinking water, a filter can be greatly helpful. Cut the bottom off of your bottle and turn it upside down. You can keep it capped or cut a hole in the cap to control the release of clean water. Start with a layer of charcoal from your fire in the base. Then add a layer of sand. Top that with fine gravel and then stretch fabric over the top. As you pour dirty water in the top, the different layers will draw out sediment and contaminants making it more pure. It is suggested that the water still be disinfected if possible.
  • Solar Still – If you have plant matter, mud, salt water, or contaminated water you can use evaporation and condensation to collect clean water. Cut off the bottom of your bottle and fold the base back into itself to create a lip at the bottom. Keep the cap on and place it over your potential water source. Make sure this is in direct sunlight in a humid environment. The moisture should evaporate and then condense on the cooler plastic. It will then run down the sides and collect in the lip you created.
  • Funnel – Simply by cutting the top off of any plastic bottle, you create a funnel. This is greatly helpful to fill other bottles with grain or fluids that need to be stored for later.
  • Refrigeration – If you have extra room in your freezer, fill bottles 80% full with water and cap them. Then keep them in your freezer. If your power goes out you can move them to the refrigerator side to help keep everything cool, or you can move them to a cooler. You can also stack them in front of a fan to make a homemade air conditioner.
  • Sandals – If you find yourself without shoes, you will quickly realize that getting around is pretty tough. You can flatten out a 2 Liter bottle and then punch holes to fish cordage through the plastic. Secure them to your toes, heels, and ankles for some quick foot protection.
  • Broom – Cut off the bottom of a 2 Liter bottle and flatten out the bottle. Then you can cut vertical slits 3-4 inches up from the bottom leaving thin strips at the base. You want your strips to be as thin as possible without breaking. Attach a stick for a handle and you can sweep your living area.
  • Warm Shower or Hand Wash – Paint your bottle black and fill with water. Sit it out in the sun for several hours. Then open the lid just enough for a trickle of water and hang it from a tree. You can have a nice warm shower or have warm water with which to wash your hands.
  • Eye Protection – If you have a project that requires eye protection, plastic bottles can help. Just cut 2 inch circles out of the flat plastic and then punch holes to run cordage. Strap them over your eyes and you are good to go.

Finally we will cover specific ways to repurpose glass bottles:

  • Spear Point, Knife Blade, or Arrowhead – Flint knapping takes lots of practice, but it can allow you to make all kinds of pointy and sharp tools. This is the process of taking a piece of glass and carefully chipping away at it with a piece of metal or rock. Through this process you can shape the blade or point to be very sharp. Then you just need to attach it to a handle or shaft.
  • Fish Hook – If you are really good at flint knapping you can make a conventional fish hook. However, getting the curved shape is very difficult. All you really need is an elliptical shard that is long enough to catch in the fish’s mouth when it bites down. For most fish a shard 1-2 inches long is about right. Then tie it to your line and add bait.
  • Oil Lamp – By filling any glass bottle with oil or another flammable liquid, you can create a lamp or torch. Cut strips of cloth or cordage and let them soak in the fluid. Then cork or cap the lid and punch a hole for the wick. Shove it through the hole and down into the liquid. Now you can light the wick and have ambient light for hours.
  • Thermal Wall – You can actually use glass bottles as bricks when building a wall. You simply mortar or concrete around them just like bricks. You can also use mud and straw if needed. However, if you use dark colored glass and fill the bottles with water on a South facing wall they will collect heat from the sun and then release it at night. This will also serve to help warm your home.
  • Spoons or Scoops – By cutting glass bottles at an angle near the taper, you can create all kinds of useful tools. Then you just need to add a handle. To cut glass you can score it with a sharp tool and then heat it over a candle to crack it along the score. You can also dunk cotton cordage in alcohol, wrap it around the bottle, and light it. It takes a few times, but eventually it will cut through. Sand the edges and you are finished.
  • Char Cloth – This manufactured tinder is great to have in the bush to help get fires started. To make it in a glass bottle cut small strips of cotton cloth and put them in the bottle extending all the way down to the bottom. Then gradually heat the bottle with fire keeping the top open so smoke can escape, but being sure not to allow the materials inside to actually flare up. After 10 to 20 minutes you should have cloth that is charred black. With the impurities burned off, it is perfect to catch a spark.
  • Fire Striker – If you have a fire steel, glass can actually work well as a striker. Break off a piece large enough to grasp and wrap fabric around one side for a handle. The best pieces are the thick glass at the base of the bottle. Be careful when striking not to shatter the glass.
  • Knife Sharpener – If you remove the label from the glass, you can run the blade across the bottle at a 20 degree angle. Doing this on both sides strops the glass and gives you and edge somewhere between using a stone and using a leather strop.
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About Ryan Dotson

Ryan Dotson
My name is Ryan Dotson and I am a survivalist, prepper, writer, and photographer. I grew up in the Ozark Mountains and in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. My interest in survival started when I was in Boy Scouts and continued as my father, uncle, and grandfather taught me to hunt and fish. In the last few years I have started taking on survival challenges and have started writing about my experiences. I currently live in Mid-Missouri with my wife Lauren and three year old son Andrew.

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