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?