Growbag Blog

Fantastic – it’s not plastic!

Surely we ALL know by now that plastic is harming our precious planet?  But the horticultural world is still full of it!  

How can we, as responsible citizens of our beleaguered environment, reduce our reliance on plastic in the garden?  We 3Growbags have come up with nine ideas for you…….


The Royal Horticultural Society has a sustainability strategy that includes “Circular plastic by 2030’. It says:

“We will eliminate all single-use plastic; encourage reduced use of all our plastics, ensure all packaging is 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable in all RHS operations and encourage all of these in gardening practices to our members and visitors.”

Hurray! We are all for EVERY outlet to adopt the same principles.  We 3Growbags are getting on our high horses about how garden retailers sell all their plants in plastic pots, which almost all end up in landfill.  We want to champion a campaign for change – please do read our article on this specific issue – the link is at the end – and join us.

In the meantime, there ARE things we can all do in our own gardens: 

  1. Garden features. A garden tends to be full of …..THINGS – pergolas, trellises, cold frames, statues, pots, cloches, gnomes……….and you may well be thinking of adding to your collection of such items this spring.  I know plastic is cheap, light, and water resistant, but could you look at the sustainable alternatives?
Choosing metal or wood for a pergola must surely be a more ecological choice than plastic

A wooden or metal cold frame is just as effective at protecting your plants, earthenware pots are more stable than plastic ones, stone statues look better as they age rather than worse (lucky old statues, I say)…  

A cold frame is just as useful when it’s made of wood

2. Chemical bottles. Time was when anyone had a pest or disease problem in the garden, they reached for the appropriate chemical and sprayed like billy-oh until the problem had gone.  Books on horticulture from 20 years ago were full of lists of which killer chemical to use.  What were we thinking would happen???!!! And almost every one of them comes in a single use plastic container.  Shall we all try and reduce, or even stop, our use of these products that are dealing such a double whammy to the environment?

All those garden chemicals in plastic bottles – are they clobbering the environment twice? We rather think they are…..

3. Artificial grass. Some gardens are tiny, making a real grass lawn at best impractical, and at worst, impossible to maintain.  In this situation, artificial grass can seem a boon, giving you a perfect sward every day, and even seem eco-friendly: no need for watering, mowing, or chemicals to keep it looking tickety-boo.  

Yes, it’s convenient, but might you be able to find an alternative to plastic grass?

But it’s still plastic.  Usually bonded with a rubber backing, it is very difficult to recycle, and most ends up in landfill eventually.  Could you use an alternative? Moss, thyme, mulch, gravel, uncut natural grass? Or at least, seek out the companies that are making this stuff from re-cycled materials? 

Creeping thyme
Could you use thyme instead of artificial grass for a very low-maintenance ‘lawn’

Laura and Miscanthus Yakushimo Dwarf

4. Potting compost. This is sold in such a garish coloured plastic you could cut up the empty bags and wear them to a fetish party (always more Caroline’s thing than mine tbh). So we all need to start making more compost ourselves by storing leaves, composting garden waste and rushing out with a shovel when we hear a horse plop some of its golden muck on the road outside.

You could def recycle these bags as a Caribbean Carnival costume.

If you absolutely need to buy some compost, maybe the way Guy Grieve of Atlantic Garden is going about things is a glimpse of the future. His soil-conditioning compost, made from storm blown seaweed off the Scottish coast, is packed and delivered in completely compostable packaging.

Atlantic Garden compost
Is this a glimpse of the future? Seaweed compost supplied in 100% biodegradable packaging

5. Plant pots. Perhaps our biggest bug bear, and the focus of our new campaign ‘Stop the Pots’ are plastic plant pots. Totally ubiquitous in the gardening trade I think most of us have a stash of these in a ‘shed of shame’, which we may re-use but there are limits to how many we can store or use.

We three have started using Wool Pots at home, and having a lot of success with them (check out Caroline’s healthy seedlings in our feature pic this week), and we’re begging the industry to look at alternatives too.

Wool Pots
We 3 Growbags have gone potty over Wool Pots – they give give you a warm comforting feeling that you’re doing the Right Thing

6. Water butts. We’re all saving water now, but why are so many water butts made of that really thick plastic? Attractive galvanised dipping tanks were voted best new horticultural product of the year 2024 and look gorgeous, but a battered old galvanised tank from a reclamation yard would do the job. One little caveat is that it might be a good idea to have some kind of cover over it, to prevent debris or even baby birds falling into it.

Water butt
Not exactly designer quality but Caroline’s galvanised water butt cost £16 from B&Q (note that where she lives in the Highlands the butts don’t even need to be connected to a down pipe to fill with water lol!)

Caroline cuttings

7. Plant labels. Oh dear I’m afraid I’m going to be the metaphorical Beechers Brook in this otherwise exciting canter through to a new, non-plastic you. Plant labels – yes I’ve got your attention now haven’t I.

There’s no denying that wood, slate, lollipop sticks, bits of yoghurt pots, none of them are as good as the white plastic labels you get off Amazon for a fiver. And right now labels are imperative as we gaily sow tray after tray of…well  goodness knows’ what without a label to tell us. 

All you need for the ‘least worst’ plant labelling dilemma

So teamies here’s what to do, use these labels but at the end of the summer just get a standard school eraser to rub out the plant name – you can re-use them for years by which time some clever millennial will have created something  sustainable that’s just as good.

8. Wheelbarrows. After that little setback, we’re back on to an easy win. There is no need to get a plastic/rubberised/immortal wheelbarrow. Most metal ones are generally lighter and better balanced than the green blobby ones – fact. And if you tip it over so it doesn’t fill with rain when not in use, a metal wheelbarrow will, in fact, see most of us out, simply developing a little filigree effect in the base that says ‘I’m bio-degrading with grace and beauty, just like my owner’.

30 years’ of constant use and abuse in Highland weather and still improving – it’s self-draining now!

9. Grow your own grub. Finally – a no-brainer. I’m not suggesting you go all Swiss Family Robinson overnight. Let’s start off with say, potatoes and broad beans both of which I can grow, so you definitely can, and each will keep/freeze for winter dinners. It’s a baby step on the road to saying ‘no’ to plastic food packaging (why do they sell tatties in a plastic bag?) and, co-incidentally, ‘yes’ to food security. 

We’re literally fighting for the future of our planet now, so we should really be Digging for Victory.

Here is the link to our article: ‘Stop the Pots!’

To go with this campaign, Laura has made a short video on the subject. Look out for a couple of other follow-ups on our 3Growbags YouTube channel.

We have in fact initiated a petition to encourage the garden retail industry to accelerate a move away from single-use plastic – we’d love you to join us! Click here to see it and hopefully add your signature.

Sometimes, it’s all about the anticipation, isn’t it! Louise’s Great Plant of the Month is just such a one. Read about it here:

More NB If you’re not already a subscriber and you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

11 replies on “Fantastic – it’s not plastic!”

Re plantpots – on a recent visit to Ashwood Nursery, I notice that some of their bought-in plants were from the Hairy Plantpot company – not sure what the pots are made from, but they’re definitely hairy!

Hi Elaine, Yes, there are certainly all sorts of people making changes to the way they sell plants – and it’s just great to see! I believe the Hairy Pot Company uses coir pots and stacks them on wooden trays. Well done to Ashwood Nursery, and perhaps others will soon take up the message. All the best, Elaine

Not everyone who wishes to garden has room to make their own compost so buying readymade is the only option . The manufacturer needs to look at ways of using recyclable bags . More garden centres could offer to take back plastic pots for recycling.
The use of thyme, or dried grass as a base for a garden is not practical in the places where plastic grass is often used i.e flat balconies .

Hi Frances, you make some excellent points here. We couldn’t agree with you more about persuading manufacturers of packaged compost to use recyclable bags – some companies are but not enough yet. Some garden centres have actually stopped taking back pots because of the difficulties of recycling different materials and colours, and it would be fantastic if that problem could be resolved, but apparently there is no easy fix. I take your point about alternatives to plastic grass often not being practical – we are really just asking people to carefully consider the materials they are using, before opting for ones made of plastic; and certainly some companies are making artificial grass out of recycled plastic, so that is another step in the right direction. Thank you for contributing to the conversation! All the best, Elaine

My corrugated cardboard cover for my compost has kept it warm for nearly three months and is only now collapsing ready to be added!Plastic did create the gardening revolution in my youth but now we know that was shortsighted.We need to find out about experiments at Kew re plastic digesting fungi being trialled-I heard..perhaps you girls know something I don’t!

Hi David, Yes, we know about your corrugated cardboard cover, and how incredibly efficient it’s been round your compost heap – this is the kind of blue-sky thinking that we applaud wholeheartedly! I did hear about experiments with plastic-digesting fungi – on an Earth-shot programme, I think – and thought it sounded a really worthwhile project offering some much-needed hope for the future. Fingers crossed for those scientists, eh! All the best, Elaine

I have been influenced! I’ve ordered two boxes of Atlantic Garden compost to try for my little cut flower venture Perthshire Petals, I wonder if they’d do a bulk delivery with a reusable or natural fibre bag?

Great, Jennifer! We were very impressed with what this company are doing, and they say that their delivery bags are 100% home compostable, which is excellent news. You get a discount for ordering bags in bulk. I hope the product works well for you – we are so keen to support ANY horticultural company that is trying to make a difference, but it’s even better if what they are actually selling is sensational! All the best, Elaine

I think sometimes people do away with their grass lawns in favour of plastic because of the time and effort of mowing. I’ve bought a cheapie push manual mower from Homebase for just over £30 and its been a revelation. It’s really lightweight and no faff with plugging in, recharging etc. It takes me about 5 mins to mow a sizeable area of grass and is hardly any effort at all. I don’t bother putting the grass collecting box on so the clippings just stay where they land. It’s lovely to see the blackbirds and robins pecking through the grass afterwards.

Have been saving all my wooden lolly sticks and now all the wooden cutlery we are given. The wooden cutlery is either good for plant labels or as small gardening tools for transplanting or for children to use.

Hi Anne, thank you for writing in with your tip about wooden lolly sticks and cutlery. It’s a great idea, and certainly works for transplanting seedlings etc. I did trial them as plant labels but found that the moisture they absorbed quickly rendered the writing illegible, regardless of what kind of pen I used. We’ll keep up the great search to find alternatives to plastic! All the best, Elaine

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