I was stood in my shed the other day having another one of my wrestling matches with my stacked plastic pots (see ‘Should have stayed in bed’ post) when I started thinking about the amount of plastic used by gardeners and would it be possible to garden without it.
I consider myself fairly environmentally aware: I recycle where possible, I compost garden and kitchen waste, I don’t drive and haven’t flown for over 10 years now, I use eco-cleaning products and garden organically. It is important to me that when I garden and work on my plot that I’m not damaging the environment but the use of plastics in the horticultural trade is a large problem and I’m unfortunately playing my part in that problem.
After a bit of searching on the internet it seems that there are more than 500 million pots, tubs and trays used every year across the horticultural trade and that recycling is very small scale. It seems that a lot of the plastic used in the manufacture of pots and trays is very low grade which makes it unattractive to recycling companies. Most people have had the thin seed trays that don’t even last a season or the module trays that bedding plants come in and that break very easily. There is also the issue of hygiene. Garden centres and nurseries are reluctant to reuse pots because they could spread pests and diseases and sterilising would be expensive and time consuming.
Plastic is so cheap that the horticulture trade, on the whole, use it without thought. But this might not be the case in future. As oil becomes increasingly expensive and hard to come by so, too, will plastic. There is also the issue of land fill. We are running out of space to dump our rubbish and hard as it is to believe when your seed tray collapses and breaks, plastic takes a long long time to actually degrade.
And its not just pots and trays, what about the plastic compost bags. You might make your own compost but you will need to buy in grit and vermiculite and what does that come in and then there’s the plastic netting to keep the birds off your strawberries or the netting to support your beans. Plant labels, polythene on your tunnels . . . it’s quite disturbing really how we are so reliant on plastic.
So that’s all the bad stuff but is there anyway I could feel better about my plastic footprint. Well I have stopped buying those cheap but flimsy seed trays, instead I buy the very rigid trays that, if looked after should last a long time. I reuse all my pots, washing them out and try to store them so they don’t get damaged. I now make my own compost, although I still need to supplement this occassionally but I do reuse the compost bags. They make good liners for pots or for stuffing with green waste if my bins are full.
My quest for the next growing season is to see if I can reduce my use of plastic further. I will keep you posted on how I do. Has anyone got any suggestions of their own?
elaine rickett said:
You do come up with some interesting topics – I can’t say I have given the plastic situation much thought really, but now you have mentioned it – well, there are terracotta pots of course, and the old gardeners used to use wooden seed trays, but I don’t know where you would get those from these days (maybe those tomato trays you can get and line them with newspaper). Oh dear – it is a problem, can’t see any way out!
p.s. you know when you comment on my blog it comes up on my email and I reply the same way – does it come through on your email (even though it says no reply-comment).
Yes, your comments do come through on my email but to be honest I only check that once a week or so. It’s an email I just set up for this blog so I can keep my other email separate. So I generally manage my comments and replies through the wordpress dashboard. Not sure what the no reply means, I’ve seen it a lot on other blogs. Maybe someone who knows will see this post and enighten us both.
No reply emails are ones which are just advising you and can’t be replied to. xx
This is something that haunts me too. My abortive attempts to re-use wooden lolly sticks as plant labels showed how hard it can be… I re-use a lot, those stupid plastic boxes that grapes come in (which I wouldn’t buy if left to myself) make great seed trays, and cutting up plastic milk cartons provides plastic for plant labels that don’t go furry (!). You can also use them for “winter sowing” which I plan to try this year. But you are right, we have a very long way to go.
Carolyn @ Urban Veg Patch said:
You’ve come across some staggering statistics about the use of plastic. I confess I do drive but other than that my ethics are in line with yours and I completely agree with your viewpoint. I don’t really use plastic pots but do use those little peat pots that I buy from the local pound shop – that’s probably worse, actually! Coffee stirrers and bio-degradable disposable cutlery from trendy coffee shops are used as plant markers. Bamboo skewers mark my seed sewing drills, as do coffee stirrers (again!). I managed to find some small wooden trays from the local greengrocers for seed trays for next year, but they’ll probably need lining – with plastic! I think the answer is to just invest in products that will last a very long time, and hope others will follow suit.
It’s a real conundrum isn’t it. And one I’ve tried to figure out in my tiny brain. Is it better to buy biodegradable or to reuse? I simply can’t figure out the answer. But either way you are spot on about the rigid plastic, they should last years.
also tried the lollipops, until they went mouldy!
Onwards and upwards eh?
Jennifer Wright said:
This made me realise just how much plastic has taken over in only fairly recent times! I use the inner rolls of toilet tissue and kitchen roll as roottrainers for stuff like carrots, parsnips, beans and sweet peas, though I do set them upright in one of those plastic mushroom chips!
I’ve also experimented with home-made pots made from newspaper but I’m worried about the coloured inks they use-does anyone know if they’re safe?
My garden birds pull out any labels I put in so I’m now using bits of fire kindling!
I think most printers’ inks are made from vegetable dyes now, although don’t quote me on that. I tried the toilet roll holders for sweetpeas a couple of years ago but by the time I planted them up they were covered in mould and really icky.
Yes the rolls do get a bit bleurgh! But that mweans they’re well on the way to composthood and break down letting out the roots. I know they’re more plastic but gloves help!
Carolyn @ Urban Veg Patch said:
Mine went horribly black with mould the first time I tried this. Try microwaving them before use, it kills any bacteria left on them. You’ll have to experiment as to timings for this as I can’t remember what I did, but it did resolve the mould issue!
A most thoughtful post Wellywoman. Like you I recycle, have compost bins, make leaf mould, have a wormery, do not drive and have never flown … yet… I am ashamed to say that I have a small mountain of plastic pots! These mushroomed from when I used to sell plants on a small scale. They are slowly being eroded as and when I can find folk who can make use of them. It makes me feel less guilty but does not solve the problem. I think that nurseries and some garden centres are becoming aware of this issue and are selling plants in biodegradable pots. I certainly look out for these now when plant buying. I am also trying to sow more stuff directly into the ground so that I miss out on the pot/tray stage altogether.
Could’nt agree more. We all…no matter how environmentally aware we are…are somewhat guilty when it comes to plastic. I get all my pots from the local garden centre…they don’t reuse them…at least more new plastic is not being bought. But of course I do have a polytunnel…covered in…plastic!!
Carolyn @ Urban Veg Patch said:
If you see any council gardeners planting up the municipal parks, ask for their discarded pots. I know these are dumped as waste usually so, although not getting round the plastics issue entirely, at least it’s reusing!
What an interesting post. Like you I try and recycle where I can. I looked into using biodegradable pots for the plants that I sell – but the cost was prohibitive for me (I only sell things on a small scale) But I seem to have become the recycling point for the village’s flower pots.
I also have invested in heavy duty seed trays, which seem to be lasting very well. Empty compost bags I use to collect leaves for storing and rotting down ….
But as you point out the list of plastics around the garden is endless.
My local garden centre told me this year that plastic garden furniture has now become more expensive than sustainable wood furniture because of the cost of the plastic!
Good blog post.
Hi, thanks for coming by my blog! Thoughtful post here, and I feel the same – I’ve stopped buying cheap and flimsy plastic that won’t last, and I look after and reuse all my plastic pots to make sure they last as long as possible. I’m pleased to say I’ve had nearly six years use so far out of the pack of plastic plant labels I bought when I first got my allotment! It’s sad that there doesn’t seem to be a better affordable option. I tried newspaper pots and toilet roll tubes one year but they encouraged far too much fungus and I lost a lot of plants. 😦
Loved this post. Avid recycler here too. It’s a worry isn’t it.
I do a couple of things
When I buy a new plant, if possible I de-pot it and either pop it in a recycled bag, newspaper or a box (give them back the pot) – they deal with it then not me which they are obliged to. If it’s tricky, I do it in boot of car, pop their pots into the ‘free pot’ area most garden centres now have to try to entice folk to take them.
I tend to sow seed trays (like u good sturdy ones) thinly enough to go about avoiding the pricking out stage and need for pots. Annals ideas a great one too, but not that suited to my climate.
Like Janet I reuse anything plastic that come in and when we have local plant sales they get as many pots/plastic tubs from me as I can recycle/reuse.
It’s near on impossible eliminating it I think but just being conscious of your plastic footprint can make you look for ways of reducing it.
I’ll ty harder too, lovely inspiring post.
Thanks everyone for their suggestions for using less plastic. I’m certainly going to put some of them into practice and seek out other ideas over the next couple of months. x
An interesting post, and comments, and one that I totally empathise with.
Much as many gardeners would like to be plastic free we are constrained by what the big garden centres do and sell. It should be possible but would take considerable effort, and possibly be somewhat costly. xx
Long time blog friend Pam devotes her life to giving up plastic and her blog includes the category Home, Office & Garden which should be helpful for relevant posts.
Thanks for the link Flighty. Had a quick look and I am very impressed by her dedication.
Carolyn @ Urban Veg Patch said:
Another very useful link, Flighty; you amaze me with all the useful things you know! I’ll be bookmarking the link (Leave Only Footprints) so that I can have a leisurely read and glean lots of inspiration. Fab! Caro x
Janet at Planticru Notes said:
I’m very impressed with everyone’s dedication to recycling. I do most of the above and try to recycle everything in the garden. But I never have enough compost for potting up plants. Even the Vital Earth compost comes in plastic bags which I reuse. I make small paper pots and use toilet rolls all of which tend to disintegrate. Most of my plastic pots get other plants put in them for garden sales and I now use wooden seed trays.
My sister handed me a big bag of plastic pots that she had amassed threatening to put them into landfill if I didn’t take them! I did and they’re still sitting in their (plastic) bag.
When we had a poly tunnel I felt very guilty recovering it when the first cover got ripped to shreds by the wind and where did the plastic go ? the dump. It happened again within a few months and even though we had moved on I know it got a new cover.That’s a lot of plastic. And then there’s all the soft fruit farms near us with their poly tunnels marching across large areas of the countryside. That’s even more plastic and one big probelm!
It’s obviously been a long time since you wrote this post, but I find you pick up some very interesting and relevant issues. And as I have only recently found your blog and am reading through the archive, I hope you don’t mind getting such a late comment. This mountain of plastic in the garden is definitely also something I have worried/do worry about and it is quite difficult to do something about. Here, in Switzerland, we don’t have landfills, waste that is not recycled gets incinerated which I do believe is environmentally speaking better. And when I shop at the market, they always ask if one wants the pot or not as they reuse them. Big garden centres are, of course, different. Avoiding all this plastic that is thrown at one everywhere is very difficult. Why must organic brussel sprouts be sold in a plastic tray – ok I use it for sowing in spring, most don’t – which is then sealed inside a plastic bag? Nothing to do with gardening, but just one example of the ubiquitous use of plastic, sometimes I almost look forward to when oil becomes so expensive that this will no longer be possible.
Hi Helle, Seems like a global problem and frustrating that gardening which should be about improving the environment is so dependent on plastic. Packaging in supermarkets is frustrating too, although the atmosphere inside the packaging does lengthen the shelf life of perishable goods. And with such long supply chains I guess this at least helps stop so much food being wasted. We have to pay for plastic bags here in Wales which has certainly made a difference for us. We always have canvas bags with us now when we go shopping.