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The Plastic Conundrum

There has been a lot of talk about plastics in the garden media and we thought it might be a good idea to try to unpack the issue a bit, with a slant on Bristol and how you might be able to review your plastic use in your garden, on your plot or in your community space.

The first thing we would like to say to everyone is that gardening is not a reason to consume and as a hobby, whether you’re growing food or ornamentals the list of things that are really necessary is quite short. A good hand trowel, a fork, a pair of secateurs and a watering can are probably all you really need, although there are obviously things that as you do more will make your life easier like loppers and hoes. But there certainly isn’t any need for what we like to call at Edible HQ, plastic tat. Plastic gnomes, wind chimes, grass, plastic box balls and the like just aren’t important and we can live without. When buying tools look out for those with wooden handles, or search through second hand shops, keep an eye on internet marketplaces or see if relatives have extras they don’t need, or that need a wee bit of maintenance/mending. Often older, “vintage” tools last for years and are great family hand downs.

And that brings us onto the inevitable question of plastic plant pots. Unfortunately at the moment plastic is the best thing for nurseries to grow plants in and whereas hopefully there are people looking at alternatives at the moment the focus seems to be on creating recyclable pots that are different colours to black and so more easily recognisable to recycling plants as recyclable. However, this still relies on the local authority, in our case Bristol Waste, having the necessary equipment to recycle them, and in Bristol, like in many places, this is not possible. But before we all jump down Bristol Waste’s throat, lets look at plastic pots and how they actually can be recycled within the gardening community.

We all, as gardeners, buy plants and 99.9% of those will be grown in plastic. However, many of us also grow a lot of plants from seed and this is the ideal opportunity to recycle pots within your own garden, especially if you struggle with keeping slugs off your seedlings. Pot them on into 9cm or even 1ltr sized pots and grow them on until they are larger and they are far mor likely to withstand slug attack. For us here in Bristol this is necessary as those pesky slugs love our clay and I am yet to find a space that isn’t home to many a mollusc. However, that’s not all we can do.

Many of you will have seen the Edible Culture nursery in Faversham, Kent, on Gardeners World a couple of weeks ago, and their promise to not let plastic off their site but rather continually recycle their pots by taking the pot off the plant and replacing it with what they call a posipot at point of sale. This is a brilliant idea but of course their plastic pots return to production on site, whereas many a garden centre buys in their plants and probably isn’t aware of where the pots actually came from in the first place. However, as consumers isn’t it our right to demand better from the places where we buy our plants and ask that they take back plastic? They could offer a customer collection point that then people could also take from and they also could, in some places, find out where they could return plastic to in order to make sure the plastic remains in the gardening system as it were. The majority of small independent nurseries and garden centres will start to do this we think, once they know there is consumer demand for change, however, inevitably there will be push back from larger, more supermarket like places, whose stock all comes from central distribution warehouses and who will struggle with this. Making decisions about who you support when buying plants can be difficult but if you find your local independent garden centre or nursery we are sure they will soon enough be on it.

Of course there is also the opportunity to give pots away. Schools, early year centres, youth groups and community gardens may all take pots at certain points in the year and be really grateful for them as they are expensive to buy and surely no one wants to buy more plastic if they can avoid it.

Of course there are alternatives.Coir pots, pots made of bamboo, pots and seedling trays made of cardboard pulp and even made with newspaper are available and can be made. You can also start seedlings in yoghurt pots as long as you put drainage holes in, or loo roll holders which are ideal for beans and peas, and we would encourage everyone to see what works for them as there are alternatives the home grower can use that would never work on a nursery!!

Finally a word about the recyclable pots. We have seen some and they were ever so flimsy and when we bought a couple of 9cm ones split when we removed the plants from them to plant out, so we are really disappointed that they seem to be single use and then straight to recycling even though we can’t recycle them in Bristol. We hope that the garden centres around the city know that it’s pointless buying plants in them as they can’t be recycled but we have seen some. We believe the larger sized recyclable pots are better quality and less single use like but we have yet to see them. So our thoughts for now are to look after any that you do buy and that they will last you forever if you do. Our Sara reckons the pots we grow in are at least 10 years old as she saved them from a skip at a nursery she ran years ago.

Lots of folk have also commented on compost bags and what can be done with those. We keep ours and use them as recyclable waste carriers in the gardens where we don’t have a compost heap. However, the good news is that our new, favourite compost, made in the Lake District by Dalefoot Compost from sheeps wool and bracken that would otherwise be waste products, comes in really thick carrier bags that can be turned inside out and used for growing potatoes or lining raised beds or hanging baskets and used year on year. Whilst of course that’s not ideal they are definitely not single use which is a good start for change. However, if we all create our own compost the amount we will need to buy in will be far reduced and when talking sustainable gardens we think the first thing every garden needs is a compost heap/bin. At the moment we are involved with an exiting project with UWE, looking at how we can help support good composting-more on that soon.

What we hope is that soon there will be legislation about all this and a date set for when plastic needs to be removed from the gardening industry and that there is political will both nationally and locally to ensure that happens.

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