Garden-related plastic waste – reuse it, recycle it.

Ahhh, spring … the season of renewal and replanting; of purchasing plants for your vegetable garden, foundation beds, or flower gardens and large bags of potting soil, compost, or mulch. The vast majority of the products come housed in plastic. By the end of spring, active gardeners may be responsible for mounds of plastic ‘waste’ – nursery pots in all shapes and sizes that most municipal recycling programs do not accept, and empty plastic bags. What does one do with all this garden-related plastic waste? Reuse it; recycle it.

It is easy to think you are ‘doing good’ by tossing plastic nursery pots into the recycle bin … but don’t. Most are made of black, previously recycled plastic, which most municipal recycling programs do not accept. Environmentally disposing of plastic nursery pots is a bit more involved. I first reported on this topic – Reusing & Recycling Plastic Pots – in the May/June 2012 issue of Connecticut Gardener and in a Reuse, Recycle Plastic Nursery Pots post on May 29, 2012. The information remains valid and bears repeating.

In Connecticut, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) currently suggests Nursery Pots and Trays (horticultural) be sanitized in a 1/10 chlorine bleach to water solution before reusing, or recycling them to an interested garden club or nursery. Some garden centers and other plant retailers will take pots back from their customers. Make it a practice to ask, at the point of purchase.

Used nursery pot collection bin at Ballek's Garden Center.

Used nursery pot collection bin at Ballek’s Garden Center.

I am fortunate to have two local resources for pot recycling. Ballek’s Garden Center has a large plastic pot collection bin. They wash and reuse some and donate others to local garden clubs and groups. Staehly Farms likewise accepts nursery pots and trays. They clean and reuse some and send the rest to a recycling program they have access to through a wholesaler.

I use a multi-pronged approach to deal with the garden-related plastic ‘waste’ from my own gardening and my garden design and maintenance clients.

I save any sturdy pots suitable for sharing transplants from my gardens to family or friends; or that I might reuse for seedlings, as liners in ornamental pots, or for other purposes. Sturdy nursery pots are good for storing plant tags or gloves, scooping from large bags of potting soil, and storing/carrying firewood for the outdoor fire pit. Pots I cannot use go to one of the resources noted above, both in south-central CT. If you live in northwestern CT, Briarwoods Farm ( is looking for used nursery pots.

Being un-nerved by the number of plastic bags I end up with from mulch, compost, or soil purchases I found ways to reuse these as well,. I store these folded bags in a plastic nursery pot until needed:

  • To protect me from poison ivy when pulling these vines from garden beds. I sink my hand/arm into the bag, grab the vine, carefully fold the bag down over the vine as I pull the vine out – trying to get all the roots. I then seal the bag for disposal into the trash.
  • To collect invasive plant material such as Japanese stilt grass, small bittersweet vines, or any weedy material I don’t want in the compost pile or elsewhere on my property. Clear plastic bags are perfect for this. Once bagged, I leave the invasive material to bake in the hot sun for a few days – just to make sure it is actually dead – before tossing it in the trash.
  • As pot sleeves for stacked clay and ceramic pots. One flattened bag between each stacked pot helps prevent the pots from chipping and sticking together.

    Save plastic bags from purchased compost, potting soil, or mulch to separate stacked clay and ceramic pots.

    Save plastic bags from purchased compost, potting soil, or mulch to separate stacked clay and ceramic pots.

  • To protect car surfaces when transporting plants.
  • To hold large root balls of plants dug up to share with other gardeners.

Note: do not reuse plastic that housed chemicals – organic or non-organic.

Finding ways to reuse garden-related plastic helps remove some plastic from the waste stream or, at the very least, uses things like compost bags multiple times before they get tossed.These are small, but valuable, steps every gardener can take to ease the environmental impact of garden-related plastic waste.

How do you reuse/recycle garden-related plastic?

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