How to Build a Plastic Bottle Ecosystem

Written by david chandler
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How to Build a Plastic Bottle Ecosystem
An ecosystem may be modelled using a plastic bottle. (MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA image by janaHB from

An ecosystem is the combination of living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) component in an environment. The biotic components include all of the living organisms such as the plants, animals, fungi and even bacteria. The abiotic components include the nutrients in the soil, water, light and other nonliving factors that affect the ecosystem. Ecosystems do not have a minimum size requirement. In fact, the inside of your mouth is an ecosystem with complex interactions between the microbial communities that reside there and their surrounding environment. A simple ecosystem may be constructed using a plastic bottle, top soil and some seeds.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Clear 2-liter Plastic Bottle with Cap
  • Scissors
  • Potting Soil
  • Beans and/or Grass Seed
  • Duct Tape
  • Water

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  1. 1

    Cut a hole into the side of the plastic bottle three to four inches above the base of the bottle. The hole should be large enough to access the inside of the bottle. Do not discard the removed section of plastic, as this will be replaced when the ecosystem is completed.

  2. 2

    Add soil to the bottom of the plastic bottle until the bottom of the bottle is filled just below the access line (about three inches deep). Potting soil is preferred, as the rich nutrient content of the soil aids the developing ecosystem.

  3. 3

    Plant seeds into the soil and dampen with water. Bean and grass seeds work well. Bean seeds are typically planted one inch deep while grass seeds can be scattered on top of the soil. If substituting other plant seeds, ensure to select a small plant that does not grow larger than the inside of the plastic bottle.

  4. 4

    Reseal the bottle with the removed section of plastic and secure using duct tape.

  5. 5

    Select a sunlit location for the ecosystem and observe the growth of the plants. This particular ecosystem is designed as a closed ecosystem, where nutrients are cycled between the organisms and their environment, requiring only the input of energy (sunlight). Animals such as earthworms and insects may be added with caution. Due to the small size and delicate nature of the ecosystem, there may be insufficient plant material to sustain grazing animals, and earthworms may significantly disturb the shallow soil, uprooting the young plants.

Tips and warnings

  • The small size of this ecosystem and relatively large occupants makes this ecosystem extremely delicate. Altering the number and type of organisms, adding or removing water, adding nutrients or changing the temperature may irreparably harm the organisms living inside.
  • When making modifications to the ecosystem, small adjustments should be spaced over time. For example, adding too much water because the plants seem to be wilting can lead to a collapse of the ecosystem.

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