The Green Genie in a Bottle

By Mona Simpson

Tired of recycling? No problem — now you just toss all those plastic soda bottles right into your backyard. And the best thing about it is that you’ll be applauded, not scolded.

We can all agree that plastic bottles make everyday life more convenient. Unfortunately, they also can damage the environment. But now there’s a way they can improve it.

A Beautiful Second Act

Architect Marcelo Rosenbaum is featured on Brazilian home design television show Home Sweet Home. He developed an amazing way to upcycle soda bottles into an attractive vertical garden. Upcycling is the practice of taking waste materials and improving their usefulness and value to make an item that is better than the original.

Rosenbaum brought his unique and creative designs to the home of the Rodriguez family: a mother and her two daughters who are already on the organic fast track by growing some herbs and vegetables in upcycled containers. He transformed their outside living space with a vertical garden made from upcycled bottles and twine. He took hundreds of clean, used plastic soda bottles and cut out a section in each to create a planter. He then strung the bottles up horizontally on a sunny wall that runs along a pathway by the family home. The design was so attractive and practical that Rosenbaum received many requests for the plans, which are now available for free (in Portuguese) on his design firm’s website.


Photo Credit: Marcelo Rosenbaum

Vertical gardening is a concept that has existed for thousands of years. There are records of ancient Egyptians using vertical gardens as early as 3000 B.C. The concept has taken on new life and garnered renewed interest recently with increased environmental awareness and the adoption of green building practices.

Small Space, Big Benefits

There are several benefits of vertical gardening:

  • Gardeners can grow many plants in a small space
  • Diseases and pests can’t reach the plants as easily
  • The structures to which vertical gardens are attached are cooler because of the shade provided by the garden
  • Plastic bottles are lightweight, making the garden a lighter load on the wall to which it is attached
  • Materials, such as recycled bottles, are inexpensive

Classroom Discussion

  • How else can you upcycle plastic bottles?
  • What other materials would work well for upcycling into a vertical garden?