Plastic in the Garden

Published on October 10th 2018
We think of gardening being green but unfortunately, gardeners encounter plastics every day within their gardens. Wheelbarrows, polytunnels, pots and watering cans are just a few examples..
There are approximately 500 million plastic pots and trays in Britain, and most of them can't be recycled. I personally use all my plastic pots and trays until they fall apart.

Plastics in the garden

We're all surrounded by plastic, and it's hard to argue that it's something of a wonder material:
  • Plastics are usually extremely durable
  • They're pretty lightweight, so you can carry around a lot of things that would be too heavy if they were made of metal
And reusing plastic in the garden keeps it away from landfill sites and means we don't have to produce more just for our gardens.

Reducing your plastic usage

  • Try an alternative e.g. glass, terracotta, natural fibres, wood or stone. The Hairy Pot Plant Company are a great example!
  • See if you can get your local garden centre to stock basic gardening necessities made from something other than petrochemical-based plastic. The gardening industry is moving towards non-traditional alternatives, but they need us to support these efforts.
  • Some local garden centres might also have recycling facilities for black plastic, or they might start recycling your black garden plastics if enough people ask for it. Most councils don't offer this option because the standard recycling systems use lasers that can't detect black plastic.
  • Rather than using plastic sheets for mulching, you can use thick layers of newspaper or cardboard instead.
  • A lot of tea bags contain small amounts of plastic in the sealant. So if you want to compost these chose plastic free tea bags or tip the tea leaves out of the bag and add the tea leaves to your heap.

There are 8 different types of plastic

All the plastic you've ever bought or seen will almost certainly be one of seven different kinds, and they all come from petrochemicals originally. This is finally starting to change as bioplastics produced with plant starches are appearing on the market.
  1. PETE or PET bottles. The majority of clear water bottles are made from PETE or PET, and they can be reused as cloches to give delicate young plants some protection. But remember that most bottles are only designed to be used once, so they'll often start to break down over time, especially if they're left in the sun. So use them till they degrade and then recycle.
  2. HDPE (high density polyethylene). Commonly used for detergent containers and milk bottles, these plastics can be adapted for use as bird scarers. This type of plastic takes a long time to break down, making them a better option for the long term.
  3. PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Most lightweight but rigid plastic is PVC, and we all use it every day. Guttering, wheelbarrows, plastic watering cans - they'll all be PVC.
  4. LDPE (low density polyethylene). You'll be familiar with these plastics through compost bags, cling film, polytunnel covering and more. Although LDPE can only rarely be recycled, it can be reused.
  1. PP (polypropylene). Polypropylene is often used for rigid food containers e.g. microwavable food trays, yoghurt pots etc. But it has other uses too, and there's lots of it in the garden - flower pots are the most obvious, but polypropylene is also found in netting, plant trays and more. It can usually be reused for several years, once it has reached its natural end of life it can be recycled unless it is a black plastic. But remember that recycled plastic is generally used to make the majority of black flower pots.
  2. Polystyrene. Probably the most well known plastic, polystyrene is everywhere in packaging, from takeaway food containers to CD/DVD cases. You should avoid using this type of plastic for gardening if possible.
  3. Other. This covers all the other kinds of plastic. Most of them have industrial applications or are only used in very specific situations, but many of them are toxic, aren't recyclable and definitely shouldn't be used in the garden.
  4. Bioplastics. Bioplastics are produced using renewable resources. They're a bit controversial as the necessary crops take up space that could have been used for growing food, but plant starch and vegetable oils could well be the future of plastic. Their main advantage over traditional plastics is that they don't require as many fossil fuels to produce, and they more easily break down. They're now starting to be used more for a lot of disposable items and packaging. Some bioplastics can be composted, but they often need a constant period of heat and take longer to compost than other ingredients.

Do you have plastic saving tips in the garden? Post and share them with the Candide community using the tags #Tips #Recycle

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