How many plastic plant pots do you have in your shed, greenhouse or garage? According to our latest survey, the average gardener has 39. And without good recycling schemes, all these pots will be stuck there.
An average of 39 plastic pots for the 1,006 Which? members we surveyed seemed a rather conservative figure to me. So, I did a quick straw poll around the Which? Gardening office: some of my more green-fingered colleagues confessed to hoarding hundreds.
The fact is, most of us don’t want these pots. Some of them are useful for sowing seeds, potting up seedlings or passing on plants to friends, but a lot of them aren’t.
They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, making them difficult to stack, as commenter Dawn told us on our previous plastic pots Conversation:
‘My biggest bugbear is the non-standardisation of them. It is nearly impossible to stack used pots in any sensible way.’
Despite our best intentions, two fifths of us never get around to reusing the pots we’ve saved.
Getting to the root of the recycling problem
Of course, the obvious thing to do is recycle them, but that’s much easier said than done. A third of us put plastic plant pots in our recycling bins, but the type of plastic used to make them (polypropylene) isn’t a priority for many local authorities, so they could end up in landfill.
And as far as I know, only two garden centre chains – Dobbies and Nottcuts – offer a ‘bring back’ your plastic plant pots scheme. This is a real shame, because three quarters of us would find it useful to be able to recycle our plant pots more easily.
And it’s perfectly doable: according to the British Plastics Federation, ‘plastic plant pots are eminently recyclable and useable’. They could be made into all kinds of useful things if enough of them are recycled.
Garden centres need to grow up
Both the British Plastics Federation and a recycling company who ran a pilot pot recycling scheme last year told me that if enough garden centres offered a ‘bring back’ scheme, there would be enough pots to interest recycling companies (as long as the pots are clean).
This view was echoed by Mike Parker, who runs a recycling plant. He told us it’s currently hard to turn a profit recycling pots:
‘We run a recycling plant in Essex that only recycles pots (polypropylene ) and trays (polystyrene). The problem we have is actually that we cannot get enough of the pots and trays to operate in a profitable way.
With an estimated 500 million pots in circulation every year, there are certainly enough to satisfy recyclers. The garden centre industry just needs to step up to the mark here and accept responsibility for the plastic pot mountain it’s creating.
If Dobbies and Notcutts can offer a ‘bring back’ scheme, why can’t The Garden Centre Group, Homebase, B&Q and others? It would help make garden centres – and gardening – greener.