Lightweight, cheap, and convenient, plastic is an incredibly versatile material with many uses in the garden – but it comes at a high environmental price. Plastic is one of the worst pollutants of our oceans and stays in the ecosystem for hundreds of years. Changing the way that we garden to focus more on biodegradable materials will help to decrease the damage done by plastic pots, trays, and other equipment.
Here are some suggestions for swaps you can make:
Keep in mind
Plastic seed trays
Wood or bamboo seed trays
Wood is absorbent, and doesn’t let water run straight through like plastic does, making it easier to re-wet dry compost
Wooden trays are heavier and must be stored somewhere dry in winter. Bamboo is more lightweight, but can’t be made or repaired at home
Biodegradable pulped cardboard modules, newspaper pots, or toilet roll inners
Seedlings establish faster and don’t suffer from potbound roots. It is also cheaper to use materials you have at home rather than buying flimsy plastic modules which are prone to shattering
This takes more time, and may require more frequent watering
Plastic plant labels
Wooden lollipop sticks, wood shavings, bamboo plant labels, or engraved slate
Alternatives don’t break as easily as plastic stickers and can be recycled more easily. Investing in sturdy slate labels can be a beautiful touch to your garden
Untreated wooden labels can wick up damp and become hard to read, so slate or bamboo may be more useful in the long term
Plastic netting or string
Natural twine, jute, hemp, or metal mesh
Natural twine is readily available and gentler on plants than plastic ties
Plastic netting is used because it is longer lasting – natural twine will need to be replaced more often, but will decompose more easily and ultimately be better for the environment
Plastic watering cans or hoses
Metal watering cans
Hand watering uses water more economically and more efficiently targets irrigation. Additionally, the plastics used in plastic cans and hoses are linked to harmful toxins
Metal cans are heavier, and watering takes longer
Plastic plant pots
Single use biodegradable containers, coir, bamboo, waste cardboard
Plastic pots are a significant source of plastic pollution – there are about 500 million in circulation, each taking 400 years to break down. Biodegradable pots are not removed before planting (benefiting the plant as there is no root disturbance) but…
…this means that they can only be used once, making them difficult to implement on a larger scale. More on this below.
Switching responsibly (use what you already have!) Be wary of any source which urges you to buy more products in the name of the environment. Simply buying a metal watering can, for example, is unnecessary if you already have multiple plastic cans lying around. Continue to reuse plastic pots, trays, and other equipment until they reach the end of their lifespans to keep them out of the waste system for as long as possible. Only once they need replacing is it productive to opt for a more environmentally substitute. Additionally, carry on recycling rigid plastic to keep it in circulation.
At the Walled Garden we are always working on ways to reduce our use of plastic and are currently exploring alternatives to plastic plant pots. Many of the alternatives suggested above are viable for personal gardening, but do not make sense on the scale of our store. Currently, we are recycling our existing supply of plastic pots, and will continue to do so until they reach the end of their useful lives. In the meantime, any thoughts or suggestions are welcomed.