Since my husband and I have become better and more frequent gardeners, we've come to see just how much waste is created in a garden. Plastic is everywhere! The plants we buy are very beneficial to the environment and the biodiversity of our garden, but the plastic pots (and trays) are certainly not! So what can you do with all those little pesky plastic pots? Good question, there are a few things you can keep in mind when it comes to how to recycle plant pots the right way!
Why do we need to find ways to Recycle Plant Pots?
Well, it's simple, plant pots are basically another single-use plastic that makes their way into our homes and because of what they are made of they go right from our backyards to landfills. Constructed from petroleum-based fossil fuels (hydrocarbons) that are dyed with carbon inks (which turns them black), they are just about impossible to recycle and most cities will not accept them.
It's important to check though, some municipalities are working with companies that will take black plastic. In Vancouver they are accepted but not in Toronto.
If your city does accept them, you need to follow a few simple steps to make sure that they will actually be recycled:
- Make sure you clean out all the soil from the pot. Leftover sand can ruin the recycling machine.;
- Separate them by shape. Plant pots can be square, round, etc;
- Stack them properly, square with square, trays with trays, etc;
Can plant pots be recycled?
You might be wondering why some places will accept them and others don't. Well, it's a bit complicated, like all things with plastic waste! The City of Toronto says "there is no stable market for the volume of black plastic generated in Toronto. Black plastic cannot be sorted mechanically at the recycling facility because the optical sorting technology cannot recognize it."
The other issue is the type of plastics it's made from. Plant pots are normally made from soft, flexible plastic, known as polypropylene or plastic #5 (PP). Others are made from High-density Polyethylene (HDPE) or plastic #2, these are a little more durable and rigid and have higher recycling rates.
One of the main reasons why we need to recycle plant pots is because we simply do not need more plastic in our environment. Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose and while it's happening it breaks down and contaminates the soil and water around it and we've seen many studies that show how microplastics are ending up in our oceans and lakes as well.
When it comes to reducing the number of plastic plant pots, we are seeing some companies offer biodegradable alternatives. Right now you can find plants in:
- Recycled paper is made from types of recycled paper, including newspaper;
- Paper sleeves made from Wood fibers;
- Coconut coir (compostable/plantable) made from Coconut fiber;
- Cow pot (plantable) made from Dehydrated cow manure mixed with recycled cardboard pulp!
Then there are bio-plastic and planets made from recycled plastics, again these are not always accepted to be to, you guessed it, check!
What can I do with empty plastic plant pots?
The flimsy soft ones are pretty hard to reuse BUT there are lots of new gardeners and even school gardens that will need pots that are in good condition. Some college horticultural departments will also accept them. And same goes for local community gardens. Use platforms like Facebook Market Place and Freecycle to ask if anyone needs them. Also, connect with master gardeners in your area, they hold annual plant sales and fundraisers and are always in need of pots.
How To Reuse Plant Pots?
You can use smaller pots as shakers. If you need to sift something like fertilizer, this will work so well. Use them to store your holiday decorations. Seed trays are perfect for this, use two, one to hold the ornaments and the other on top to keep them in place.
Use a small pot to scoop soil. If you have a lovely pot that you want to use but it does not have holes in the bottom, use a plastic pot that will fit into it, just make sure to raise it slightly from the bottom, you can use stones or smaller pots to line the bottom, for that. You can then lift the plant out of the container, water it, let the water daring, and then place it back in the pot.
Use the larger plastic plant pots to cover your bushes or herb to keep the frost at bay during those cold fall and spring nights. If you have serious DIY skills you can try making over a plastic pot with plaster and burlap, it's pretty fracking amazing! Or you could try turning plastic plant pots into beautifully painted lace decoupage décor!
I use them for seed starting, and I also use them to give away the plants that I’ve divided. This year I gave away so many divided perennials that I almost ran out of plastic pots! I have no idea what I’m going to do next year!
My hubby and I like to plant different annuals each year and sometimes in different areas, but digging new holes can be a little tiresome. So I was thinking maybe we could create permanent planting holes. Simply dig a hole, place a large plastic pot inside the hole then you can just place a new pot in the hole and make it easier to swap out.
Use old pots to protect your plants when you are laying down mulch. Cover the plant, then place your mulch where you want it, then remove the cover, and voila, no flowers will be buried.
Use old pots as well pots. Why not? You can either use them as-is. You can create beautiful art as you see in the picture below.
To cut back on waste even more you can buy bare-root plants that come from mail-order nurseries. Use larger pots as collection buckets, they are easy to stack and store.
So I realize these ideas might be a little lofty for some, but plastic plant pots are hard to get rid of, so we all need to do what we can, where we can!
Where to recycle your plant pots, no matter where you live!
Canada and the USA
If you live in Canada or the USA these are several stores that will take your plant pots. Home Depot has a program called The Plant Pot Recycling Program. Lowes will also take them. And so will Loblaws. Sheridan Nurseries based in Ontario also has a good program.
I highly suggest you talk to the manager where you purchase your plants, herbs, or flowers. Sometimes they offer take-back programs but they don't advertise them, so it might not be so obvious when you are in the store. It's also a great opportunity to let the shop owner know that you'd like to have more options for discarding this type of waste. You can also write or email the company asking them what kind of programs they have and what they are doing to curb waste.
Here are the recycling guidelines for major cities across Canada:
A quick Google search landed me on this page. This is what they say on their website: "Bring old plastic plant pots and trays to your nearest store and we will ensure that they don't end up in a landfill. We can take all shapes, sizes, and colors of pots or trays, as long as they're plastic and not polystyrene. Please wash them before you bring them to us."
In Australia, you can take a look at your local curbside program. Some do accept black plastics. Polymer Processors is a local company in Melbourne that will take them too.
I found this great video on Youtube for you to watch too! Just make sure to finish reading this article, because it's great! LOL!
What about plastic soil & mulch bags? Can you recycle those?
Again, it will depend on what your local recycling statin accepts, best to check. You can also look into Multi-Material Depots in your area.
Here are some ideas on how you can resue them: cut the bags open and use them as weed guards, they can be used in place of black landscape plastic or fabric. You can also use them to clean up and collect weeds etc. You can also wash the bags out well and use them to wrap things if you are moving or even protect the things you are storing.
Can you recycle the plastic tags?
If the tags are not laminated they can be recycled. Again you will need to check. You can see just how frustrating recycling is and why most people just give up! For these tags, check with the local garden center, they might take them back. You can also reuse them, simply grab a sharpie and write on them, you can also spray paint them with chalkboard paint to reuse them over and over.
What about other kinds of plant pots, like terra cotta, cement and ceramic?
Well, none of these are typically accepted in city recycling centers. According to Recycle Nation "Planting containers made of terracotta, ceramic, glass, thick plastic or other materials probably cannot be recycled. Neither can containers heavily adorned with things such as tiles, mirrors, or glass beads. You may be able to break up the planting containers and use them in other ways. Small fragments of terracotta and ceramic can look nice in a garden path. Place some of the shards in the bottom of a new planting container to help improve drainage. Plan to place any remaining pieces of these planting containers, or any whole containers you have no other use for, in the trash."
But there are a ton of really awesome DIY projects you can try to reuse them:
Here are 20 DIYs I simply love for your ceramic pots. Or you can turn your terra cotta pits into the most beautiful creations, 100% going to give this a go! And if you have old cement planets, you can learn how to paint them to make them look fabulous!
Final thoughts on how to recycle plant pots
Gardening is so much fun, but it should not come at the expense of the planet. I hope I have given you some fun and innovative ways to reduce these pesky plastic pots. I would really love to hear from you. Do you garden? What do you do with all your pots?
Did you know we have a ton of guides here on The Eco Hub that will help you get rid of your old stuff responsibly including:
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