Bottle towers for alleviating malnutrition

 

Photo credit WVC P1080581.JPG

Planting seedlings of vegetables and herbs in the recycled plastic bottles.

BOTTLE TOWER VARIANTS FOR FRESH FOOD PRODUCTION IN THE DRYLANDS

It’s so simple and easy. Why wouldn’t hungry and malnourished people build some themselves ?

One of the best practices for development cooperation.

See: Building a bottle tower for container gardening

http://youtu.be/-uDbjZ9roEQ

bottle-towers-wvc-322133_101112709993771_100002851261908_2439_2626124_o
Soon after planting the seedlings, young vegetables and herbs are growing quickly and harvesting can start, e.g. lettuce leaves at the right. – * Bottle Towers WVC 322133_101112709993771_100002851261908_2439_2626124_o.jpg
bottle-towers-on-a-pallet-photo-wvc-p1080463
Bottle towers standing upright on pallets. – * Bottle towers on a pallet – Photo WVC – P1080463.JPG
bottle-towers-strawberries-photo-pauline-nelson-565435_283588941760201_1896170039_n
Bottle towers with strawberries.Underneath each tower a bottle is collecting the surplus of irrigation water, loaded with nutrients. That water can easily be recycled by pouring it on top of the tower. – * Bottle towers – strawberries – Photo Pauline Nelson – 565435_283588941760201_1896170039_n.jpg
bottle-towers-strawberries-photo-pauline-nelson-565290_283588961760199_1317560849_n
Wouldn’t it be nice if parents could offer these strawberries to their kids in the drylands ? – * Bottle towers – strawberries – Photo Pauline Nelson – 565290_283588961760199_1317560849_n.jpg
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Strawberries, herbs and lettuce growing against the wall. That’s one of the best practices to combat malnutrition – * Bottle towers – Phpto Sendanatura Jimdo – – sembrando-en-pet.jpg
bottle-towers-photo-scuola-dantelafalda-dscn2839
Different vegetables growing on bottle towers – * Bottle towers – Photo Scuola Dantelafalda – DSCN2839.JPG
bottle-towers-photo-scuola-dantelafalda-dscn2837
Massive production of vegetables – * Bottle towers – Photo Scuola Dantelafalda – DSCN2837.JPG
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This is not a dream, but reality: food aid in its purest form. This water saving method can be multiplied all over the world, even in the driest places. – * Bottle towers – Photo Scuola Dantelafalda – DSCN2514.JPG

See our video:

Building a bottle tower for container gardening

<http://youtu.be/-uDbjZ9roEQ&gt;

Plastic bottles stacked into a bottle tower can be recycled to set up a vertical kitchen garden at home. The bottle towers are used for container gardening of vegetables and herbs. How to build such a tower is shown in different steps.

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Drought-hit hungry households could easily grow food in containers

Photo credit : WVC P1070394 – 2011-09

Vegetables and herbs grown in 8 weeks time on bottle towers

A simple solution for the global hunger problem

by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (University of Ghent, Belgium)

Container gardening has become a universal success.  Nowadays people are growing their own fresh food in all sorts of containers (bottles, buckets, pots, bags, sacks, drums, gutters, …).

More and more people are aware of the fact that families do not need a big garden anymore to produce a sufficient quantity of food.  Today, all over the world people are gardening in small spaces, often applying vertical growing systems, e.g. on towers or on pallets.

Growing food in containers on pallets (a vertical garden in a small space) - Photo WVC  P1110546 - 2014-10
Growing food in containers on pallets (a vertical garden in a small space) – Photo WVC P1110546 – 2014-10

In 2010 I have developed my first “bottle towers”, using superposed soda bottles and food grade pots to grow lots of vegetables and herbs.

The success of this simple and cheap technique to help hungry or malnourished people to fresh food and herbs can easily be measured on the basis of numbers of views of my videos, showing how to build the towers (in English and Spanish).

Should you want to convince yourself about the global applicability of this low-tech method and the affordability for all the drought-hit families, please check out my videos:

(1) Building a bottle tower for container gardening  (332,281 views):

https://youtu.be/-uDbjZ9roEQ

(2) HOW TO BUILD A BOTTLE TOWER (142,712 views):

https://youtu.be/HuykRRspWOY

(3) CÓMO HACER LA HUERTA VERTICAL DE BOTELLAS DE PLÁSTICO (2,224,894 views):

https://youtu.be/2mx-lzPz2DM

(4) Cómo cultivar plantas en botellas (258,111 views):

https://youtu.be/HHCThgB2Y8Y

(5) BOTTLE TOWER GARDENS  (1,427,421 views):

https://youtu.be/K9vN2eudWcQ

(6) HOW TO GROW PLANTS IN BOTTLES (196,989 views):

https://youtu.be/3gxmU3YAh6c

(7) Growing food in containers at home (321,100 views):

https://youtu.be/LmcnDH77xNw

(8) Growing plants in a barrel  (268,663 views):

https://youtu.be/2Rkv6rLBomY

THE FINCAS BUENAS PROJECT IN GUATEMALA – IT’S ONLY THE BEGINNING ! (Jay JACKSON)

THE FINCAS BUENAS PROJECT (Solola, Guatemala)

Information sent by Jay JACKSON over Facebook (2014-03-07)

To Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM (Zaffelare, Belgium)

https://www.facebook.com/willemvancotthem

Once again, sir, I thank you for your inspiration and interest in what we are doing!

This is only the beginning!

THE BASIC IDEA

I was searching for ideas on how to do the most good with the least amount of money, and thought that vertical gardening was a good way to help provide nutrition to “campesinos” who don’t own a lot of land. I wasn’t finding any examples of vertical gardening methods that produced food, until I came across your videos on YOU TUBE, and it was like “Eureka!” for me :

Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem checking the first results of his bottle tower experiments : vegetables and herbs growing in recycled bottles. (Photo WVC).
Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem checking the first results of his bottle tower experiments : vegetables and herbs growing in recycled bottles. (Photo WVC).

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1. BOTTLE TOWERS – TOURS DE BOUTEILLES
http://youtu.be/JtbOREs2kIo

PET bottles stacked into a bottle tower can be recycled to set up a vertical kitchen garden at home.  The bottle towers are used for container gardening of vegetables and herbs. How to build such a tower is shown in different steps.
Des bouteilles en PET, empilées dans une tour de bouteilles, peuvent être recyclées dans un potager vertical à domicile.  Les tours de bouteilles servent à la production de légumes et herbes en récipients.  Il est montré en étapes consécutives comment construire une telle tour.

2. Building a bottle tower for container gardening
http://youtu.be/-uDbjZ9roEQ

Plastic bottles stacked into a bottle tower can be recycled to set up a vertical kitchen garden at home. The bottle towers are used for container gardening of vegetables and herbs. How to build such a tower is shown in different steps.

BOTTLE TOWER GARDENS
http://youtu.be/K9vN2eudWcQ

This video shows the efficiency and sustainability of a bottle tower garden. They can be installed against the wall of a house or along a hedge or a fence.  The number of bottle towers has to be adapted for providing food security for the family all year long and year after year.  It is a method applicable anywhere on earth, both in rural and in urban areas, e.g. on a balcony.  It can be applied at the lowest cost to alleviate malnutrition and hunger.

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APPLYING FOOD PRODUCTION IN BOTTLES AND BOTTLE TOWERS IN GUATEMALA

  • It is a perfect solution to teach people to reuse (recycle) what normally may be considered garbage, along with providing some sustenance and style at the same time.

    Local Guatemalans setting up a bottle tower (Photo Jay Jackson 2014-03)
    Local Guatemalans setting up a bottle tower (Photo Jay Jackson 2014-03)
  • The neighborhoods of the indigenous Mayan population around Solola, Guatemala, can use some decoration and color as well, because it has a way in getting people to take pride in their community, and not want to throw garbage on the ground.

    Remarkable development of lettuce varieties in a bottle tower against a decorated wall (Photo Jay Jackson 2014-03)
    Remarkable development of lettuce varieties in a bottle tower against a decorated wall (Photo Jay Jackson 2014-03)
  • I initially came down here to put in an irrigation system on an American friend’s land, but when children were constantly asking me for money, I began telling them “It is important for people to work for their money, to have pride in themselves”.

    Many children in rural areas need vitamin-rich vegetables and herbs. Thanks to the bottle tower method one can produce in the shortest period a panoply of food crops in the smallest spaces (Photo Jay Jackson 2014-03)
    Many children in rural areas need vitamin-rich vegetables and herbs. Thanks to the bottle tower method one can produce in the shortest period a panoply of food crops in the smallest spaces (Photo Jay Jackson 2014-03)
  • That’s when children began asking me for jobs.  I started thinking about how different it was in Guatemala from the United States, where children normally don’t have to worry about working until they are at least teenagers.

    School children come to the Fincas Buenas project to learn how to recycle bottles and to build bottle towers.  They return with new skills and a lot of enthusiasm about their own future (Photo Jay Jackson 2014-03)
    School children come to the Fincas Buenas project to learn how to recycle bottles and to build bottle towers. They return with new skills and a lot of enthusiasm about their own future (Photo Jay Jackson 2014-03)
  • So in the meantime, our project begun construction of an Outdoor Horticultural Learning Center, and we offered the harvests we had grown to a local kitchen for the young and elderly, and provided snacks to children in school.

    Solidarity between the local people : interested neighbors come to learn about the "towers" and receive free vegetables already grown at the project site. (Photo Jay Jackson 2014-03)
    Solidarity between the local people : interested neighbors come to learn about the “towers” and receive free vegetables already grown at the project site. (Photo Jay Jackson 2014-03)
  • It was only until very recently that we decided to shift gears and start constructing these bottle towers more full time.

    Rows of bottles with lettuce (left) and towers of bottles with vegetables and herbs (right). (Photo Jay Jackson 2014-03)
    Rows of bottles with lettuce (left) and towers of bottles with vegetables and herbs (right). (Photo Jay Jackson 2014-03)
  • The people in the town of Solola (and the next town over) are now gathering their own bottles, and we install the gardens for them, providing composted soil, canes or wire mesh, and seedlings.
  • Bottle towers and classic garden fields on the slopes (Photo Jay Jackson 2014-03)
    Bottle towers and classic garden fields on the slopes (Photo Jay Jackson 2014-03)

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

We are very excited about the way this development project for a poor rural community in Guatemala is progressing. It is potentially an example for the rest of the world.

The 3 guys working with me are indigenous members of the community and they receive almost double the normal wage to work in this project, along with lessons on how to use the internet, and other basic math and literacy lessons.

The Fincas Buenas project in Guatemala is only the beginning of a general application of the bottle tower method (Photo Jay jackson 2014-03)
The Fincas Buenas project in Guatemala is only the beginning of a general application of the bottle tower method (Photo Jay jackson 2014-03)

For me it is very important that development projects directly employ members of the community in order to empower the very people they are attempting to help.

Here is a link to our fundraising site:

http://www.gofundme.com/6c5hx0

DISCUSSING MY BOTTLE TOWER TECHNIQUE (Willem Van Cotthem)

On March 13, 2013, I uploaded a video on my “Bottle Tower Technique”

http://youtu.be/HuykRRspWOY

(HOW TO BUILD A BOTTLE TOWER )

More than 68.000 people have already seen it.

Plastic bottles can be recycled by stacking them into bottle towers to set up a vertical kitchen garden at home. The bottle towers are used for container gardening of vegetables and herbs. How to build such a tower is shown in different steps.

It was my intention to show that urban and rural people, wherever they live, can produce fresh food at home, thus contributing to the combat of hunger and malnutrition.

Recently,  a general discussion was developed between people commenting on my video.  Here are some of the important comments :

  1. This idea would work everywhere, community parks, alleyways, balconies,and the recycling of bottles!  Brilliant. Thank you for thinking outside the box.
  2. Thanks so much for sharing this simply convincing and wonderful idea around the world!
  3. What a novel idea and superb application of recycling. Thanks for sharing.
  4. Sharing such a simple, yet wonderful idea to solve a very real problem in every society! Thank you for all the work and effort you put in this!
  5. This is a great garden for an apartment with a balcony or small back porch… I love it.
  6. A brilliant idea Prof, I’m going to try this out at my home in Malaysia. A modification to it , especially when building it in a equatorial or tropical country would be for the top bottle where the water goes in to be covered to prevent it being a breeding place for mosquitoes and other similar insects. Will try building this bottle tower from used wine bottles instead as the quality of used clear plastic bottles here aren’t designed for extended heat exposure.
  7. What an incredible way to grow plants on a budget and allow people to feed the hungry.
  8. Professor, your experiments are amazing not just for the average person but for the poor all over the world. I will make use of your hard work and spread the word to all my friends and on FB as well giving you the credit you deserve.
  9. it’s a hope for people without a garden to plant veggies of their own, thanks to your great idea..!
  10. This is a fantastic way to reuse and occupy a child’s mind and time during the growing season, what a fun project to get my daughter involved with this spring! I’m eager to get started. My daughter will LOVE it too!

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So far so good, but then came up the following discussion :

  1. Why isn’t this system given to FOUR BILLION  POOR PEOPLE in the 3rd  countries?  Why don’t western nations help billions of poor? This system could not only end world hunger, it could make a dent in the pollution of plastic bottles in our oceans and land fills.  …………………………….
  2. A reply to the former comment :
    Western nations DO help impoverished nations, consistently! From helping to secure clean water sources and making it possible to obtain the water for consumption to agricultural planning for soil types all the way to helping to open schools and hospital clinics for the poor. Uh, we give and give! I DO realize though, it’s never enough. …………………………………………..The world can come together with a million ideas, but people have to apply what they’ve learned and no one can make them do that. LOOK at this video, it’s accessible to EVERYONE.. it’s not a SECRET. I’m sure if there’s a will for someone to try this and the supplies needed, it’ll work. Bottles, soil, seed or plants and MOST important, WATER. ……………………………………………..

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Having read these two comments, I am tempted to add the following to the discussion :

Nobody is blaming the Western countries for not helping the impoverished nations.  Help is offered in a panoply of different domains.  However, the question remains if repeatedly shipping of food to several countries, without promoting initiatives to offer the malnourished and hungry people ways and means to produce their own fresh food, is really THE solution for the hunger problem.

The recent “explosion” of container gardening at the global level shows that in almost every country, even in the developed ones, food prices are a limiting factor for people suffering from the economic crisis.

The number of people who can’t afford a sufficient quantity of food is considerably growing.  No wonder that these people are looking for a sustainable and simple method to get additional food at the lowest price.  That’s where container gardening is coming in.  And that’s where “bottle towers” are definitely an appreciated solution.

PHOTO by Willem Van Cotthem

2012 : And the result of growing vegetables and herbs in bottle towers (Photo WVC)
2012 : And the result of growing vegetables and herbs in bottle towers (Photo WVC)

A simple question about hunger, a difficult answer (Willem Van Cotthem)

Today, all over the developed world, important parts of the population are combating the economic crisis and in particular the food crisis by switching to production of fresh food. Produced at home, even in the smallest quantities, this “own fresh food” plays a considerable  role in the well-being of families, in particular of children.  Container gardening, vertical gardening, bottle towers, gardening on risers, balconies or windowsills, hydroponics, aquaponics, gardening in self-watering buckets, bags, sacks, crates, boxes, pots, guerilla gardening, edible forests, …, it are all different initiatives taken to alleviate  hunger and malnutrition problems.

Day after day, messages and photos or videos on the internet confirm that people feel the need to produce  their own fresh food, even in the smallest available space, e.g. a balcony on the 17th floor in the city.  It is marvelous to notice that most of these “novice farmers or gardeners” proudly announce the successes of their first experiments and the swift progress made thanks to “lessons learned” and “exchange of information”.

Thanks to these personal initiatives of private gardening, the most vulnerable part of the population in developed countries is less affected by the food crisis, in particular by the high food prices.

Therefore, I feel the need to formulate a very simple question :

“If a large group of people in developed countries, affected by the actual crises and suffering from hunger or malnutrition because of the high food prices, is successfully setting up actions to produce an important part of their own food, why don’t we teach the billion hungry people, mostly living in developing countries, to do the same ?”.

The answer to this question seems to be a very difficult one.

My Chinese friends are telling me : “Don’t bring that hungry man a fish that he will eat in one day, but teach him how to fish and he will eat all year long“.

As Chinese is not my mother tongue, I translated it into : “Don’t bring the hungry people rations of nutritious food that they will eat in one day, but teach them how to grow their own fresh food and they will eat all year long”.

============

Purely by coincidence I found today these 3 publications confirming that food production has become a very hot topic all over the world.  Please read :

https://desertification.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/keralas-growing-obsession-with-vegetable-farming-in-homes-the-caravan/

and

https://desertification.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/sack-gardening-does-not-require-much-space-and-vegetables-can-be-grown-according-to-demand-and-taste-new-agriculturist/

Captions of photos :

  • “By growing different vegetables, Ainob Bibi is able to supply her own family and earn money”
  • “Sack gardening does not require much space”
  • “Sack gardening has also empowered women, who most often organise and take care of the gardens”

and

https://desertification.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/vietnam-cut-the-countrys-malnutrition-rate-in-half-by-investing-in-small-scale-farming-cnn/

2012 : And the result of growing vegetables and herbs in bottle towers (Photo WVC)
Fresh food galore in a small space : The result of growing vegetables and herbs in bottle towers (Photo WVC)

CAN FOOD CROPS BE GROWN SAFELY IN PLASTIC CONTAINERS? (Willem Van Cotthem)

Some gardeners fear that growing vegetables or herbs in plastic containers (bottles, pots, buckets and the like) could be dangerous because of the supposed leaching of Bisphenol A (BPA), and the “possibility” that this leached BPA could be absorbed by the plants, rendering them  “toxic” for human consumption.

Concerning the possible danger of using plastic containers for plant production, one should be looking for irrefutable scientific proof of the presence of BPA in food crops grown in such containers.  The fact is that, to the best of my knowledge, no such evidence exists in scientific literature.

annelies_wauters_006AGrowing strawberries in bucket towers with support of the Luminus Company (Photo WVC)

Some publications on BPA

(1) What is BPA, and what are the concerns about BPA?

Answer from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bpa/AN01955

BPA stands for bisphenol A. BPA is an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s.  In particular, BPA is found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastics are often used in containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles, and baby bottles and cups. They may also be used in toys and other consumer goods.

………………….

Some research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages from containers that are made with BPA or into your body when you handle products made with BPA. BPA remains controversial, and research studies are continuing. The American Chemistry Council, an association that represents plastics manufacturers, contends that BPA poses no risk to human health.

But the National Toxicology Program at the Department of Health and Human Services says it has “some concern” about the possible health effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children. This level of concern is midway on its five-level scale, which ranges from serious to negligible. The Food and Drug Administration now shares this level of concern and is taking steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply by finding alternatives to BPA in food containers.”

(2) Plastic Bottles Release Potentially Harmful Chemicals (Bisphenol A) After Contact With Hot Liquids

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080130092108.htm

“Feb. 4, 2008 — When it comes to Bisphenol A (BPA) exposure from polycarbonate plastic bottles, it’s not whether the container is new or old but the liquid’s temperature that has the most impact on how much BPA is released, according to University of Cincinnati (UC) scientists.

Scott Belcher, PhD, and his team found when the same new and used polycarbonate drinking bottles were exposed to boiling hot water, BPA, an environmental estrogen, was released 55 times more rapidly than before exposure to hot water.

“…………….. BPA can migrate from various polycarbonate plastics,” explains Belcher…………but we wanted to know if ‘normal’ use caused increased release from something that we all use, and to identify what was the most important factor that impacts release.”

…………………………….

The chemical–which is widely used in products such as re-usable water bottles, food can linings, water pipes and dental sealants–has been shown to affect reproduction and brain development in animal studies.

“There is a large body of scientific evidence demonstrating the harmful effects of very small amounts of BPA in laboratory and animal studies, but little clinical evidence related to humans,” explains Belcher. “There is a very strong suspicion in the scientific community, however, that this chemical has harmful effects on humans.”

…………………….

The UC researchers found that the amount of BPA released from new and used polycarbonate drinking bottles was the same — both in quantity and speed of release — into cool or temperate water.  However, drastically higher levels of BPA were released once the bottles were briefly exposed to boiling water.

…………………………

Belcher stresses that it is still unclear what level of BPA is harmful to humans. He urges consumers to think about how cumulative environmental exposures might harm their health.

“BPA is just one of many estrogen-like chemicals people are exposed to, and scientists are still trying to figure out how these endocrine disruptors–including natural phyto-estrogens from soy which are often considered healthy–collectively impact human health,” he says. “But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests it might be at the cost of your health.”

(3) Ban BPA? No Chance, Says FDA

How you can protect your family from the chemical

By Emily Main (2012-03)

http://www.prevention.com/health/healthy-living/breaking-news-fda-will-not-be-banning-bpa#ixzz2LHddD8Wn

“Much to the chagrin of public health advocates, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just announced its decision not to ban the controversial chemical bisphenol A in baby bottles, canned food, infant formula cans, or any other use in which the chemical comes into direct contact with your food. 

…………………………….
Best BPA-Free Water Bottles  

Here’s what the FDA says about its decision: “The FDA denied the NRDC petition today because it did not provide the scientific evidence needed to change current regulations,” says FDA spokesman Douglas Karas in a prepared statement. “But this announcement is not a final safety determination and the FDA continues to support research examining the safety of BPA.” The agency went on to say that, although they have been studying the effects of BPA for years, none of their existing studies show enough evidence to force them to change their official position on the chemical’s safety.

That’s hardly reassuring to NRDC public health scientists. “BPA is a toxic chemical that has no place in our food supply. We believe the FDA made the wrong call,” says Sarah Janssen, senior scientist at NRDC. “The FDA is out-of-step with scientific and medical research. This illustrates the need for a major overhaul of how the government protects us against dangerous chemicals.”

(4) F.D.A. Makes It Official: BPA Can’t Be Used in Baby Bottles and Cups

By SABRINA TAVERNISE

Published: July 17, 2012

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/18/science/fda-bans-bpa-from-baby-bottles-and-sippy-cups.html?_r=0

“WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that baby bottles and children’s drinking cups could no longer contain bisphenol A, or BPA, an estrogen-mimicking industrial chemical used in some plastic bottles and food packaging.

Manufacturers have already stopped using the chemical in baby bottles and sippy cups, and the F.D.A. said that its decision was a response to a request by the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade association, that rules allowing BPA in those products be phased out, in part to boost consumer confidence.

But the new prohibition does not apply more broadly to the use of BPA in other containers, said an F.D.A. spokesman, Steven Immergut. He said the decision did not amount to a reversal of the agency’s position on the chemical. The F.D.A. declared BPA safe in 2008, but began expressing concerns about possible health risks in 2010.

……………………………

BPA has been used since the 1960s to make hard plastic bottles, cups for toddlers and the linings of food and beverage cans, including those that hold infant formula and soda. Until recently, it was used in baby bottles, but major manufacturers are now making bottles without it. Plastic items containing BPA are generally marked with a 7 on the bottom for recycling purposes.

The chemical can leach into food, and a study of over 2,000 people found that more than 90 percent of them had BPA in their urine. Traces have also been found in breast milk, the blood of pregnant women and umbilical cord blood.

……………………………..

The American Chemistry Council said in a statement that it had asked the F.D.A. to take action because of confusion, stirred by state legislative and regulatory actions, about whether baby bottles and cups for toddlers contain BPA. It said that manufacturers announced years ago that they had stopped using the chemical in those items.”

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Vertical gardening in small spaces : Towers of bottles and pots producing vegetables and herbs with a minimum of water, simply using local dirt and manure (Photo WVC)
Vertical gardening in small spaces : Towers of bottles and pots producing vegetables and herbs with a minimum of water, simply using local dirt and manure (Photo WVC)

As some people continue to ask me about the safety of growing food crops in plastic containers, I submitted the following question to ResearchGate https://www.researchgate.net/

If BPA or BPS is leaching from plastic containers filled with soil, is this toxic substance absorbed by food crops growing in those containers?

Here are some of the key points from the responses, along with additional comments from me:

Farid El-Daoushy · Uppsala University – Department of Physics and Astronomy
That depends on the organic content of the soils. High organic content can help screening pollutants and toxic compounds from water through chelation. This self-cleaning mechanism of soils with high organic content can act as natural filters and thereby protect plants against pollution”.

Willem Van Cotthem · University of Ghent – Department of Botany
“I would like to know if cultivating food crops in recycled plastic containers poses a potential danger to public health.  If BPA (or BPS) does leach into water (or into the soil solution inside plastic containers), the question remains if the leached BPA can be absorbed by roots growing in the soil within the container.  Of course, if the leaching of BPA (or BPS) into drinks sold in “unsafe” plastic bottles posed a health risk, the use of those bottles would have been banned a long time ago. Since they are still in widespread use, however, one can conclude that it is safe to use them for food crop cultivation as well.

Reed Benkendorf · University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign School of Integrative Biology
Is BPA actually leached from any of these plastics? If so, does humic acid complex it? If not, and BPA is absorbed by the roots, does it pass through the Casparian strip in the endodermis cells? Some plants have a pronounced ability to accumulate toxins in the cortex but do not transport them further.”

David Dunn · commercial horticulture
Many crops are grown in plastic containers of various sorts, especially greenhouse crops with hydroponic and/ or substrate systems, employing more plastics or glass wool and/or with peat mixtures.  Most crops rely on plastics for delivery of water and fertilizer to plants and as mentioned above some organic teas are sometimes used employing highly complex acids, especially in protected cropping which may cause leaching from the plastics employed.  If there is a problem then it needs to be addressed quickly to allay fears of the public.

John Chater · University of California, Riverside Department of Botany and Plant Sciences
BPA is a relatively large (and non-polar) molecule compared to the ions that plants typically are taking up (K+, N03-, Mg++, … ),  so I do not think that the plant will take up the BPA (which has two phenol-groups in the structure).  There is theoretically no way for the soil’s BPA to get into the crop.  Remember, all materials need to pass through the Casparian strip in order to make it through the root’s endodermis and into the vasculature.

Willem Van Cotthem · University of Ghent
It seems difficult, if not impossible, for a large, non-polar molecule like BPA to be absorbed by root-hair cells and transported towards all plant parts. If that were the case, would there not be accumulation somewhere in the plant body?  An additional question is: Does leaching of BPA occur at ambient temperatures in the environment (including full sunshine)? As many food crops (vegetables and herbs) have been grown for decades already in a wide variety of plastic containers it seems that if BPA were leaching and transported into the crops, traces of BPA would commonly be found in the crops, as well as in the humans who consume them. No such evidence exists and no such link has been established. I am still concerned about how the general public seems to draw a connection between the potential presence of BPA in plants growing in plastic containers (“safe” and “unsafe” plastics), and the potential presence of BPA in drinks sold in plastic bottles.”

Peter Knop · Ticonderoga Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
I am surprised that no one has mentioned the enormous amount of plastic used in row cropping and the millions of tons of produce grown on such plastic. It totally dwarfs hydroponics or other container grown crops. Maybe the term “container” includes these, as for the bottom of the raised beds the entire root system is exposed to this plastic mulch. This leads to another interesting problem: some of these mulches are biodegradable and their chemicals, like binders, become part of the soil.  Aren’t they dangerous?

Willem Van Cotthem · University of Ghent
Indeed, heaps of plastic sheets are used in agri- and horticulture, even biodegradable ones. If all those plastics, or only the “unsafe” ones, are leaching dangerous, toxic elements into the environment, we are probably “doomed”.

Debi Sharma · Indian Institute of Horticultural Research
If leaching of BPA is higher at higher temperatures then it is a matter of concern especially in tropical conditions.”

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Combating malnutrition with vertical gardening in bottle towers.  Masses of food on a few square feet with only a bit of water.  Can you do better ?  Then show us. (Photo WVC)
Combating malnutrition with vertical gardening in bottle towers. Masses of food on a few square feet with only a bit of water. Can you do better ? Then show us. (Photo WVC)

Based on the responses I have received to the question I have put to ResearchGate, no clear proof has been provided that BPA or BPS is leaching into the soil in which plants are growing, or that BPA or other toxic substances are absorbed into those plants.

Is it really dangerous to grow food crops in plastic containers? 

Let us have a look at a recent publication in Science Daily(2013/02):

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130217084541.htm

A scientific analysis of 150 studies in which human beings have been exposed to “low dosages of BPA” shows that “in the general population, people’s exposure may be many times too low for BPA to effectively mimic estrogen in the human body.

The analysis of 130 toxicity studies of BPA showed:

“………………….that a small fraction of the “low doses” used in these studies are within the range of human exposures, with the vast majority being at least 10 to thousands of times higher than what humans are exposed to daily. In addition, the range of concentrations spans from upwards of 10 grams per kilogram of weight per day down to 100 picograms per kilogram of weight per day (a picogram is one millionth of a gram).

Unfortunately, the low dose moniker has been used by some to promote the importance of selected toxicity studies, for example, in arguments to ban BPA,” said Teeguarden. “For BPA and all chemicals, we need more accurate language to present these findings so the public and scientists in other disciplines can understand how human exposures compare to exposures in laboratory studies reporting toxicity.

Although I am more convinced than ever that it is safe to grow plants in plastic containers, I would still like to obtain conclusive answers to the following two questions:

(1) Is BPA (or BPS), within ambient environmental temperatures (even in sunshine), really leaching in any notable concentrations from the plastic bottles, pots or buckets in which we grow our fresh food?

(2) If so, are plants absorbing it in such concentrations that eating them poses a danger to public health?

Expecting that one day we will be able to find the answers based on long-term, independent scientific studies, I continue for now to promote my bottle tower method (http://youtu.be/JtbOREs2kIo) as a particularly effective way to combat malnutrition, hunger and poverty in developing countries.

Growing fresh food in recycled containers on a bottle rack in The Philippines.  A technique that can be by all the hungry people of this world (Photo Jojo ROM)
Growing fresh food in recycled containers on a bottle rack in The Philippines. A technique that can be by all the hungry people of this world (Photo Jojo ROM)

As long as all the specialists-experts of the world scrutinize every day the production and sales of food and drinks in plastic containers, as long as they allow millions of people to eat and drink from plastic containers, I will continue to believe that the fresh food we produce in the same containers constitutes no direct danger for public health.

Please reflect on this (Willem Van Cotthem)

HOW TO GROW PLANTS IN THE DRYLANDS ?

WHAT ABOUT FOOD CROPS TO COMBAT HUNGER ?

Be aware of the fact that a plant doesn’t EAT the soil; it only DRINKS the solution of some chemicals in the soil, without needing a large volume of substrate.

If even trees can simply grow in slits on rocky cliffs with a minimum of soil, why shouldn’t we use simple methods to have vegetables and fruit trees growing in small volumes of soil, e.g. in containers ?

Avoid all those soil problems, GO FOR CONTAINER GARDENING wherever you live.

Don’t keep saying you are hungry : PRODUCE YOUR OWN FOOD AT HOME.

Need more information ?

Go to : http://www.facebook.com/willemvancotthem

and look for

  • Desertification Field Practices
  • Container gardening and vertical gardening
  • Container Gardening Alliance

You are most welcome to join us !

Bottle tower gardening, a simple and cheap method to produce vegetables in a small space, even on a balcony (Photo WVC)
Bottle tower gardening, a simple and cheap method to produce vegetables in a small space, even on a balcony (Photo WVC)