Thursday, June 26, 2008

How plastic is your garden?

Nothing like standing in the middle of one's garden after all is planted, taking stock of how each plant is doing, noting daily growth, budding and flowering of various plants and generally feeling a great glow of satisfaction. Until, one heads for the garage to pick up a weeding tool and stares at the mound of plastic containers, waste products from this season's planting.

According to a Chicago Tribune article, over 320 million pounds of garden plastic are created each year in the United States. Peat pots are rare these days. Instead most nursery plant pots are formed from #5 plastic, but there are some sold in #6 containers. Even the plant information tags stuck into pots are made out of plastic. I can remember when they were handwritten tags on wooden popsicle sticks, but you don't see that any more. Only one of the plastic tags currently on hand was identified, and alas -- it was one of the bad ones -- a number 6 indicating polystyrene resin. (Over 20 cities in the US have banned polystyrene, which is a main component of fast food foam containers.)

I couldn't find a plastic identification number on any of the thin three and four pack containers (generally black or green) that are usually grouped into flats, also made of plastic. Graf's Nursery uses cardboard flats, which makes them easily recyclable. I gathered up all the plastic flats and took them back to Dunkler Farms on my last visit there to pick up a few end of season items.

However, I'm still stuck with all this garden plastic and feeling dreadfully guilty about it. Some of the plants I bought, I could have grown from seed in recycled paper containers, but unfortunately my job cycle is busiest when indoor planting is supposed to start. So I'll have to wait until I retire to jump into the joys and challenges of growing from seed.

Some folks in other places have found ways to deal with unwanted garden plastic. Michigan State has organized a recycle day for garden plastic. Read about it here. In Minnesota. a consortium of garden centers, AGSI Plastics and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have organized a massive garden waste plastic recycling program all season long!

There are many difficulties in recycling garden plastic. The process requires that all the pots be clean as dirt hinders the recycling process. There are very few plastic recyclers that deal with numbers 5 and 6. One garden plastic recycling group had to set up its own equipment and got into the business of turning the recycled plastic pots into plastic benches for gardens. It's great to see creative solutions coming out of difficult problems. As petroleum becomes more precious, the easy and convenient throw-away plastic containers will increase in cost -- to pocket books and to the environment.

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