Growbag Blog

Stop the pots!

How many plastic pots have you got in your shed? Dozens, hundreds, thousands?  When did you last buy a plant that was in a properly biodegradable container?  

There has been in recent years a quantum shift in the way other retail outlets issue plastic packaging – you must pay a premium for a plastic bag almost everywhere now, and packaging in general has become much more biodegradable. So why is the horticultural industry being so left behind?

Have you got hundreds of plastic pots lurking in your shed? Can we slow up this merry-go-round of manufacture/retail/landfill ?

The reasons for using plastic are understandable – it’s water-retentive, cheap, lightweight, and easy to handle. It’s also very long-lasting – did you know that it takes a staggering 450 years for a black plastic pot to decompose?  Or that in the UK alone, 500,000,000 plastic pots and seed trays EVERY YEAR go to landfill? Add the environmental impact of that to the pollution caused by plastic pot manufacture across the world, and you can see how the horticultural industry has a lot to answer for, ecologically speaking.

There have been worthy initiatives to try and break the cycle: take-back schemes for pots at some garden centres, use of taupe-coloured pots (more re-cyclable than black), terracotta, coir, or bamboo pots……. But several big garden centre chains have given up their take-back schemes because of the difficulty of finding national re-processors that could handle the different processes used in pot-manufacture; terracotta is relatively heavy, expensive, and breakable; coir and bamboo come from Asia and raise the question of air miles….

Terracotta is an option but it’s heavy and breakable

We are not saying there is any easy solution to this horrific roundabout of plastic, but surely there is a way to reduce the consequences for our planet and its future generations.   For instance, if, at the point of sale (online or in person), the plant was transferred from its plastic container to something biodegradable, the retailer would keep the pot for cleaning and re-use, and the buyer would plant their purchase straight into their garden or into a pot they already had at home.  The merry-go-round would cease.

There are outlets that are already trying to do this, using different materials including paper, cardboard, and wool.  We have been deeply impressed with Wool Pots, which use UK raw unwashed fleeces to make a range of fully biodegradable pots. It helps farmers to sell a natural by-product of sheep-rearing too. The pots are stronger and more water-resistant than paper, deter slugs and snails, and will biodegrade in the soil within 6 weeks to provide a bio rich plant food.

Wool Pots
Could these be part of the solution?

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.”

Doesn’t that sound positive?! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone involved in plant retail got on board in the same way!

We’re definitely not experts in this complicated field but we are worried about how slowly the horticultural industry is addressing this issue.  Gardeners, of all people, should be aware of the impact human actions are having on the planet and climate change.  

Is it something you think about too? We’d love to know…

Elaine, Laura and Caroline

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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.

4 replies on “Stop the pots!”

Yes, I also have masses of pots under my greenhouse staging but I use and re-use them time and again.
All broken clay pots are kept for ‘crocks’ in the bottom of large clay ornamental pots when repotting.
But with you all the way, Growbags. Thanks for keeping us on our toes…

Hi Janie, Elaine here. Thank you for writing in to support our plea for using less plastic. I do exactly the same as you with broken terracotta pots – not only do they provide drainage but they are handy for providing extra weight at the bottom of lightweight pots. Great that you are continually re-using the plastic pots you’ve already got -We’ll never solve all the problems with plastic, but we can make a start, can’t we!

It can help by growing more plants from seed – including perennials. There are a lots and lots of plants you can grow from seed (from a paper packet) instead of buying from a garden centre (in a plastic pot). Plus then you have the choice of using peat free compost whereas a lot of plants from garden centres are still planted in peat-based composts. It’s much cheaper as well and you can grow lots of plants for pennies each rather than buying one plant from a garden centre for £10 or more. If I see a plant in a garden centre I like I always have a look online for seed availability. Even if the exact plant isn’t available as seed, you can often get something that is pretty close. The sense of achievement and excitement of growing from seed can’t be beaten in my view.

Hi Lisa, Thank you so much for writing in. Yes, sowing seeds is a HUGELY rewarding and economic aspect of gardening, isn’t it. I was admiring my courgette and cucumber seedlings just a moment ago! And as you rightly point out, growing the plants you want from seed can be part of the war against environment-pollution too. I agree that it feels right to be using your own choice of compost and indeed container. So much of life is about convenience and instant gratification and of course, waiting for a seed to grow incorporates more jeopardy and demands much more patience than picking up a plant at a garden centre. But there is no question about the sense of achievement, and we can award ourselves a ‘green’ badge as well – wonderful! All the best, Elaine

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