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How to Go Plastic Free in the Garden

Published on October 31st 2020
A plant in a pot with a wooden label
Want to take the plastic-free pledge for your garden this year? Alice Whitehead shares her top tips…
Loving the environment is part and parcel of being a gardener. But over the last few years, we’ve all had to face up to the fact our hobby uses a lot of (often non- recyclable) plastic. From pots and plant labels to packaging and polytunnels – swapping to an eco-friendlier material is a must to reduce our carbon footprints and protect our oceans.

Plastic free pots and seed trays

It’s said the average plant pot takes a staggering 400 years to biodegrade. On top of this, black pots and trays are unrecyclable due to the fact they can’t be detected by machinery used to sort plastics. The vast majority of the estimated 500 million pots used in Britain each year end up being incinerated or sent to landfill.
Black plastic plant pots
The good news is, an increasing number of pots are now being produced in different colours, so they can be recycled. And better still, there are pots available that are made from different materials, including FSC recycled wooden trays and bamboo, which can be composted.
Rubber seed trays are made from fairly-traded FSC natural rubber, or you might like to use pots made from the husks of crops such as rice.
A close up of a plants growing in a seed tray
Rubber seed trays
If you want to get serious – make your own ‘modules’ from newspaper or toilet rolls. The benefit of these is that they can be planted seedling-and-all into the garden, with no root disturbance.

Plastic free plant labels

There’s really no need to use plastic labels in the garden. Once you’ve written on them three or four times, they’re unusable and difficult to recycle.
I love to use lollipop sticks – you can get big boxes from craft shops – or I make my own from wooden cutlery, offcuts of wood, rocks and aluminium drinks cans.
Metal labels are a good option but are hard to reuse on new plants. So, make your own using old tomato paste tubes. Simply cut off the top and bottom of the tube, clean out the leftovers and cut the metal to size.
Painted wooden spoons in the garden

How to reduce and make the most of your plastic packaging

From blister packs to plastic wrap – buying plants by mail order can often leave you with a pile of plastic that’s hard to reuse. But it’s possible to buy plants from suppliers that use more eco-friendly packaging.
David Austin Roses, for example, wraps its plants in compostable materials made from potato starch. And Bluebell Cottage offer a pot return and plastic-free mail order service.
Sadly, even if you opt for eco-friendly peat-free compost, it often comes in plastic bags. Use old compost bags as makeshift grow bags or for storing leaf mould and compost, or try one of Melcourt’s ‘bags for life’, which you can refill from a bale of compost at the gardener centre.
Ultimately, making your own compost is a sure-fire way to reduce the amount of plastic you bring in to your garden. You could create your own leaf mould in jute sacks, for example, or use old pallets to create a compost bin.
A compost bin made out of pallets
For seedlings, mix your compost with leaf mould or coir for water retention and vermiculite for aeration. Do a test sowing to see if your mix is right.

Plastic free frost protection

Horticultural fleece tunnels and sheets are a godsend when frost strikes and for extending the growing season – but they come at a cost. Most are made from plastic, and as they disintegrate, they leave traces of plastic shards in your soil.
Though my allotment is far from plastic-free yet, I recycle net curtains from charity shops to hang over homemade frames and also use hessian sacks. There are also companies that sell hessian by the sheet, and also offer sheep’s wool alternatives to fleece.
Horticultural fleece

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