University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
there are products made from recycled materials that you can find for
garden and landscape. Knowing some of
these products, and facts about them, may inspire you and help you to
is perhaps the first product most think of when they think of recycled
waste. According to the latest EPA
statistics, 32.5 percent of solid waste is recycled or composted.
Although 62 percent of yard waste is
composted, still for landfills I’ve seen figures of between 10 and 30
of solid waste being from yard debris and grass clippings. Buying
compost you are not only helping the
environment but also the economy. The EPA
estimates that the same amount of yard waste creates seven jobs in
compared to only two jobs if such waste goes to the landfill.
increasing number of municipalities, non-profits, and private firms
each year. When buying compost, there
are several quality standards you might look for including a local one
from NOFA (Northeast Organic Farm Association) or the USDA Certified
seal. The Seal of Testing Assurance is
from the U.S. Composting Council. If you
see none of these, make sure the operation has composted
pile to prevent weed seed contamination, heating the pile sufficiently
any weed seeds and disease, using proper procedures such as length of
aeration to make good compost, and not using yard waste containing
and chemicals. Good compost is one of
THE best soil amendments.
recycled plastic products you may see the term “pre-consumer waste”
refers to virgin plastic, just the scraps and trimmings from
manufacturing. “Post-consumer” recycled
plastic has been used, then reprocessed by a
recycler. Another term you may see is
“closed-loop’ recycling, referring to a product remanufactured into the
item such as a soda bottle back into another soda bottle instead of
flower pot. Generally, recycled plastic
garden products such as some tools, pots, handles, buckets, lumber, and
like have been made from other types of recycled plastic items.
bad news is that, according to the EPA, only 3.9 percent of plastic
in the U.S.
is currently recycled. The good news is
that by buying garden products from recycled plastic you are helping to
increase the demand for, and so manufacture of, them. Two billion tons
of plastic end up in
landfills yearly, just from plastic bottles.
Each pound of the plastic as in water bottles (PET) recycled saves
12,000 BTUs in energy. Recycling a ton
of plastic bottles saves 318 gallons of gasoline, or the energy to run
refrigerator for a month. Only 36
recycled soft drink bottles can be used to make a square yard of
garden products made from rubber are made from tires. Look for such
items including mulch, soaker
hoses, edging, and paving materials.
Many recycled rubber materials come from Canada
or Southeast Asia, while most rubber mulches are made from U.S.
materials. While the good news is that
recycled rubber diverts tires from landfills, and 80 percent of the 290
scrap tires a year are reused (half of those are burned), some are
whether any leaching occurs from the rubber into the soil.
When looking for lumber and wood products in your
gardening, look for the SmartWood Rediscovered label. This certifies
that if the wood in the
product had not been previously used, it
would have been wasted to rot or chipping at a
landfill. The Forest Stewardship Council
certifies that wood comes from responsibly managed plantations
(basically that the trees are cropped
much as an agronomic crop like corn, then
replanted). Check for similar
certification on exotic tropical woods, as in some lawn furniture, to
they have been harvested responsibly.
Best yet, instead of wood, consider if you can use
lumber made with all recycled plastic, or plastic mixed with a material
sawdust or fiberglass. It is heavier and
more expensive, but lasts longer resisting rot, and never needs
staining. Such lumber is great for cold
frames, raised beds, decks, and lawn furniture.
Look for many items from recycled glass, including
bird feeders, pottery, tiles, and even mulch.
Ground and rounded glass for designer mulch, similar to marbles and not
sharp, is much more available and used in Europe
in a range of colors. Recycled glass
doesn’t look recycled, and glass can be recycled almost indefinitely.
The making of recycled glass uses half the energy
required for new glass, generating 20 percent less air pollution and 50
less water pollution. The energy saved
from recycling merely one glass container can power a 100-watt light
four hours. For every ton of glass
recycled, over a ton of resources is saved.
Using 50 percent recycled glass in a product cuts mining wastes by 75
The main downside to glass recycling is that not all
glass is created equal, so some glass that isn’t from containers can’t
recycled into “new” glass. This includes
windows, drinking glasses, and baking glass.
Yet, buying products of recycled glass you are further promoting
environmental savings, and the recycling of the over 41 billion glass
containers made each year.
Since it breaks down so readily, you may not find many
paper products for use in the garden.
What you can look for is recycled paper in packaging, bags, and
using recycled paper include mulch, compost, and
molded flower pots. Recycled paper has big environmental benefits such
as saving 3.3 cubic yards
of landfill space for each ton recovered, with paper making up to 40
solid waste in some areas. The
production of recycled paper uses 80 percent less water, 65 percent
energy, and produces 95 percent less air pollution than new paper
The energy saved from recycling a foot high stack of newspapers might
average home for 17 hours.
Most the recycled aluminum you may find in gardening
goods is in decorative products such as sundials, birdbaths, bird
holders, weathervanes, plant supports, plant hangers, and patio
furniture. About 50 percent of the aluminum we use is
recycled, the rest is sufficient to rebuild a commercial air fleet four
year! Recycling one aluminum can saves
enough energy to run a television for three hours or a 100-watt light
bulb for 20
hours. The energy saved from recycling a
six-pack is equivalent to driving a car five miles. Recycling a ton of
aluminum cans eliminates
four tons of carbon emissions.
Whatever the garden product or material, seek out ones
from recycled products where possible and encourage stores to seek and
them as well. Most are of as good
quality as ones from virgin materials. Buying these will help the
EPA estimating that five times the number of jobs (1.1 million recently
estimated) are created through recycling compared to waste disposal.
Buying these will conserve raw materials and
landfill space, as well as resources for energy. According to the
Coalition, energy savings last year from recycling equaled the amount
electricity consumed by 17.8 million Americans, or the gasoline used by
11million passenger cars.
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