June 26, 2020

Explore sustainability with this self-watering seed starter activity

Plastic Bottle Seed Starter

When we talk about sustainability, one of the things that we are talking about is what happens to materials before, during and afterward their initial use. Unfortunately, only 9 percent of plastic is recycled after it is used, meaning most plastic ends up in landfills after only a single use. Reusing plastic instead of recycling it is a great way to reduce the amount of plastic in landfills and can help reduce the demand for new plastics.

In today’s activity, we will grow our own plants using recycled material. This activity will take about 10-15 minutes of preparation and includes about 10 minutes of learning time. It is well suited for elementary school and up.


  • Plastic bottles
  • Scissors
  • Yarn
  • Duct Tape
  • Potting Soil
  • Seeds (tomatoes/peppers)
  • Water


  1. Cut plastic bottle in half so that the top half of the bottle fits neatly into the bottom half. Ask an adult to help with cutting the bottle using the scissors. (Note – you may need to trim the top half to make it fit into the lower half)
  1. Set lower half of bottle aside for now
  2. Poke hole into bottle cap using scissors
  3. Insert strip of yarn into the bottle cap, and pull it through the top half of the plastic bottle
  1. Pour water into the lower half of the bottle. Not a lot of water is needed for this step, just enough for the yarn to be submerged
  2. Place the top half of the bottle into the lower half
  3. Tape both pieces of the bottle together using duct tape. This will help ensure that water doesn’t spill. This also helps to keep the pieces together
  1. Place scoop of dirt into the top of the seed starter
  2. Use your finger to make a knuckle deep indent in the soil
  3. Sprinkle 3-5 seeds into the soil, and cover the seeds with soil
  1. Place the plastic bottle somewhere it can have access to sunlight.
  2. Check on it daily to see it grow from a seed to a sapling. Once it starts to outgrow its container, transfer it carefully to a pot or to a garden.

The self-watering seed starter is now complete! You’ll need to transfer your plant as it gets larger.

How to adjust for younger and older learners

Ask younger children to take on the responsibility of checking on the seeds every day to see if they have begun to sprout and grow into a seedling. Once the sapling is transferred out into a garden or other space, have them reset the bottle to grow a new plant.
Give older children the opportunity to draw or take pictures of the plant as it grows to document the different stages of a plant’s lifecycle. Ask them to describe what they see each day using descriptive words.