University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article


RECYCLING PLASTICS IN THE GARDEN

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
Although some plastics, such as many containers, can be recycled at many waste centers, many plastics can’t.  Here are 25 ideas for recycling plastic and foam from your home and garden into your gardening activities, through reuse, as well as for reducing your use of new plastic.
-- There are several uses for large plastic soda bottles and milk jugs including cutting the tops off to use as funnels, and using the bottoms for pot saucers.  Cut them in half to use as cloches for frost protection over seedlings.  Add water, and a watering spike on top (available at many complete garden stores), then invert in the soil for slow-release watering.  Can’t find these spikes?  Then just punch some holes in the bottom for a similar effect.  With no holes, fill with water and set around seedlings in the spring to provide some warmth and protection. 
-- Cut the bottoms off plastic water bottles, punch holes in the bottom, and use for small pots.  Use sections of water bottles for collars to protect seedlings in spring. Or, cut tops off water bottles, punch some holes in them, then bury next to plants.  Fill these with water for slow release when plants need watering.
-- Margarine and yogurt tubs, and similar, make good plant pots.  Start seeds in small ones.  Make sure to punch holes or make slits in the bottom for excess water to drain.
-- Tops cut off detergent jugs make good scoops for soil, pebbles, mulch, and compost.
--If you get plants or other items shipped with foam peanuts, save them to fill the bottoms of large planters.  They are light, so make the planters easier to move, and result in less soil being
needed on top.  Then contact the companies that shipped using these foam peanuts and encourage them to use other materials that are more environmentally friendly.
-- Avoid use of foam protectors on plants for winter, such as for roses.  Instead, mound with straw (not if mice nearby), soil, or compost.
--If you need to cover pots for winter in the north (especially those you may not have gotten planted, as is often the case with me), reuse old plastic instead of buying synthetic foam fabrics.  Cover with a foot of fluffed straw, then hold down with netting or poultry wire mesh.  Keep in mind the thin synthetic covers only provide minimal frost protection.
-- Avoid the temptation to buy large plastic pots for outdoors (unless they are from recycled plastic), and instead buy ceramic or clay ones.  Whisky barrel halves are good alternatives as well.  If you need to move heavy pots around, consider casters or a rolling platform underneath.  There is even a pot strap two people can use to easily lift heavy pots. Another alternative is to reuse plastic five-gallon buckets, decoratively painted, and with bottom holes, for large planters.  For smaller pots, consider one made from materials such as grain husks (www.ecoforms.com).
-- If you want to edge beds, consider just a nice line made with an edger instead of aluminum or plastic strips.  Alternatively, use bricks or stone-based products.  There is even a mow strip now made from recycled rubber tires.
-- If you garden you probably have plastic hose that eventually ends up not usable.  Save it!  Cut sections to use on those wire pail handles, or to protect tree bark when staking.  Drill holes and use for a drip system for shrubs, or as water recreation for children. Run electric cords through them, such as for low voltage lighting, to protect from shovels and mice chewing!
-- Those plastic tarps many use, usually bright blue, wear out in a few years.  Put loop handles of clothesline or similar through the eyelets and use to haul twigs, weeds, and fall leaves. Or, use for
a weed barrier under mulch or sawdust on top.
-- Instead of black plastic or synthetic materials for weed barriers, use thick sections of newspaper or cardboard.  Wet the paper for ease of laying, especially if windy.  Cover with an
organic mulch such as bark or old wood shavings.
-- An old plastic laundry basket can be used to organize garden items, to hold weeds or fall leaves, or when picking fruit.
-- Tie those plastic rings from six packs of soda cans together to make a trellis for cut flowers (horizontal) or vines (vertical).
-- Plastic utensils, after use, can be written on with markers for labels, or used to support seedlings.
-- Cut strips of white bleach containers after rinsing to use as plant labels.
-- Many stores take back those flimsy plastic grocery bags to recycle. If not, or first, donate to vendors at your local farmers market to reuse.  Use bags for giving plant divisions to friends.  Then reduce use of such bags by bringing your own to the store.
-- Buy products such as mulch and compost in bulk to avoid using plastic bags.
-- Buy liquid concentrate fertilizer to mix and water on plants and lawns.  This avoids buying solid fertilizers which often come in plastic bags or bags lined with plastic to keep moisture out.  Slow release fertilizer pellets for flowers, and fertilizer stakes for shrubs and trees, are other alternatives to buying in bags.
-- Buy plants and products in biodegradable containers (such as paper or fiber-based) instead of
plastic (unless it is recycled), if possible, and encourage businesses to use these.
-- Wash and reuse those plastic trays and pots your plants and seedlings come in.  After giving a squirt with the hose or once over with a brush, dip in one part bleach to nine parts water, then rinse well.  This helps prevent spread of any plant disease. 
-- Just as some are starting to take their own grocery bags to the store, take your own flats to garden stores in spring when buying bedding plants.  If buying from a specialty nursery that field grows, then digs, their own perennials such as daylilies, bring your own pots.
-- If you have plastic pots you can’t reuse, check with your local garden center or nursery to see if they have a recycling program.  Unfortunately, many of these plant pots can’t be recycled currently due to the diversity of plastics being used, the colorants in the plastics, and dirt on the pots.  Encourage your local nursery industry or waste management district to work towards a solution for recycling the estimated (by Penn State University) 320 million pounds of greenhouse and nursery plastic used each year.
-- Grow more plants yourself, such as from seeds and divisions, or trade with friends and local plant clubs.  This way you can use your own paper or recycled pots, reducing the amount of plastic pots and flats you have to buy.
-- Buy more shrubs and perennials that will last for many years, than annual flowers.  This way you are reducing your generation of plastic waste through buying fewer plastic pots and flats.
        

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