More ways to use less plastic in the garden

More ways to use less plastic in the garden

Over the past few years, we’ve all become more aware of the dangers of our over use of plastic and the damage that this material can do to us, our environment, and to creatures of all shapes and sizes who live in the rivers, oceans, and in the landscape around us.  For the most part, the horticultural sector has taken their time to address the horticultural industry’s use of plastic.  For many years, garden centres and nurseries have sold plants in black plastic plant pots and seed trays, which cannot be recycled at any of our kerbside recycling points, many of these pots have just been used once, for a brief period of time, before being discarded by gardeners, when they plant up their gardens.

Thankfully, I can tell you that the horticultural industry is now waking up to the problems that plastic brings us as consumers and the harm plastic is causing to us and our environment.  I thought it might be helpful to tell you about some of the steps I take, to limit the plastic I use in the garden.  I also want to share some new ideas and new products with you.

This large, terracotta planter really enhances the garden. It’s worth investing in beautiful, functional planters that are environmentally friendly and a joy to use.

Firstly, it’s important to say that it’s how we use and then discard plastic that is the real problem.  The answer to the plastic crisis is not for gardeners across the country to throw out or recycle all of their plastic.  The most important thing that we can do is to make good use of the plastic we have and use it responsibly.  Then, when a product has reached the end of its usable life, it’s important that we recycle each and every item, in the most efficient way.

There are at least 50 different types of plastic.  Plastics need to be sorted, separated, and then sent to a facility that’s able to process and recycle plastic of that particular type.  Black plastics, which are typically used to make the plant pots that most container plants are sold in, aren’t usually recyclable.  Sadly, the dark colouring of black plastic makes it harder for plastic sorting machines to detect, so they aren’t yet recyclable, which is incredibly frustrating.

This plastic seed tray has been used many times, it’s a bit squashed in places, but this seed tray still has plenty of life left in it.

Horticultural Trades Association

In July 2018, a number of leading growers from the Horticultural Trades Association got together to come up with a solution and way forward, to create plant pots that can be recycled.  Following this meeting, new, taupe coloured polypropylene containers were chosen as a viable alternative to the ubiquitous black plastic plant pot.  You won’t see them in every garden centre, as these newly designed taupe coloured pots are currently in the early stages of production, so they haven’t yet made it into most of our nurseries and garden centres.

Recyclable containers and seed trays

These new containers are comprised of a lighter coloured, recycled plastic, which can be picked up by machines using near infrared to sort plastics.  So, when these beige containers do make it into nurseries and garden centres, gardeners will be able to purchase plants and then recycle any unwanted containers via their kerb side recycling schemes.

When we’re buying, using, or recycling plastic, it’s important to remember that even plastics that can be recycled have a limited number of times that they can continue to be recycled.  Recycling itself requires a considerable amount of energy and cost.  So, it’s worth all of us investing time in searching out and sharing ideas of ways to avoid purchasing new plastic and to reuse our old plastics responsibly.

Bare root plants

One of the ways you can reduce the amount of plastic you use is to order bare root plants.  Bare root plants have many advantages, they’re cost effective to buy, lighter to post, and bare root plants establish quickly.  The only downside for gardeners is that bare root plants are only available while plants are dormant, during the wintertime.  In the UK, this is usually from December to March, although it can be earlier or later – it depends on the weather and the season.

Although they won’t be sent out until wintertime, the good news is that many nurseries allow you to order your bare root plants now.  These nurseries will reserve the plants in your order and then post your plants to you when they’re dormant and ready to be lifted and dispatched, next winter.  By ordering your trees, roses, fruit trees, raspberries, redcurrants, gooseberries, rhubarb, strawberries, and other bare root plants now, you can secure and reserve your preferred plants, ready for planting this winter.  As bare root plants are less expensive than container grown plants, popular varieties often sell out before the dormant season, so it really is worth getting your orders in early.

Poppies are best grown from seed. Sow your poppy seeds outside, directly where they are to flower.

Gardeners don’t require pots or seed trays to grow every plant; many plants can be sown directly outdoors, in the soil.  Some plants, like these poppies need to be sown where they will be left to grow and flower – if you try to move them the plant will decline.

Recycling plastic pots by giving unwanted containers to someone else to use

Many garden centres have a free collection and drop off point for plastic pots and planters, so if you’ve accumulated vast quantities of pots this is a way that you can easily pass your seed trays and planters on to gardeners who can make good use of them.  If you need some pots or seed trays, rather than purchasing new plastic, it’s worth saving your money until you’ve visited your local garden centre or nursery, or have asked on Freecycle, or in local Social Media groups.

Store any plastic plant pots that are not in use, in a shed, cellar, or garage, away from direct sunshine.

Tips for using and looking after plastic:

  • The sun’s rays age many of plastics, meaning that pots become brittle more rapidly, when they’re more likely to break or splinter.
  • Store all of the plastic pots, planters, and seed trays that you’re not currently using, away from sunlight, in a dark location – a shed or a cellar is ideal.
  • If you’re not going to be able to use a plastic pot, seed tray, water bottle, or other plastic item again, offer these products to your friends or family, or to your neighbours.  You could post in local social media groups, or on Freecycle, as someone else may be able to make good use of your unwanted products before they’re recycled.
  • Rather than buying new plastic seed trays, pots or planters, see if you can find some second-hand containers at your local nursery or garden centre.  Alternatively, ask for these items via your local Freecycle, or Social Media Groups.
You don’t need to purchase plastic containers. Containers can be made from a wide range of other materials. Long lasting planters can be made from wood, ceramic, or terracotta. If you need a temporary plant pot, biodegradable containers for short-term use can be made from newspapers, cardboard, and coir. While longer lived, biodegradable pots can be made from rice hulls and bamboo fibre.

This article was first published in Vantage Point Magazine‘s Gardening Newsletter, in April 2019.

Other articles about sustainable living and gardening that may interest you…………

To read about some of the other ways that I try to reduce my plastic use and live more sustainably, please click here.

For more tips on sustainable gardening, please click here.

For more tips on sustainable living, please click here.

For more ideas of ways to use less plastic, please click here.

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