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What should we do with our plastic flowerpots?

Plastic plant pots

I have something lurking behind my shed, and it’s getting bigger and bigger. I don’t know how to control it and I don’t know how to get rid of it. And I know I’m not alone. I’m talking about my plastic flowerpot mountain.

Every conceivable size and colour is represented in the unsightly heap – black, brown, green, square, round, shiny, matt and cracked. I’ve tried organising the pile into neat stacks, but they never quite fit – and really, life’s too short to stack flowerpots.

While I can reuse some of the pots for seedlings and cuttings, I’ve got far more than I need, and recycling options near me are extremely limited. And so the mountain grows and grows.

Pot recycling options limited

Plastic flowerpots are one of the ignored environmental burdens of our times. An incredible 500 million of them are in circulation every year, and most local authorities won’t recycle them (they’re made from a different type of plastic to food packaging).

Until recently, the garden centre chain Wyevale (now called the Garden Centre Group) offered a recycling service, but that’s now been dropped. That means only Dobbies, which has 26 outlets (mostly in the North of England and Scotland) and Notcutts (19 stores) will take them off gardeners’ hands.

Some progress is being made – biodegradable pots (made from coir, for example) are now available, which some nurseries, like the Hairy Pot Plant Company, exclusively use. However, we have come across a ‘biodegradable’ plastic pot that not only can’t be composted in a domestic heap, it even contaminates recycling streams!

That aside, the majority of plants are still sold in everyday plastic pots and the horticultural industry doesn’t seem to be doing much about it.

The future of plastic pots

There is some hope on the horizon. A company called Axiom Recycling is carrying out a pilot ‘bring back’ scheme at garden centres in the North West of England this summer.

The company will take the pots and turn them into plastic sheeting used in the horticultural industry, or new pots. Marketing director Keith Freegard says, ‘We want to challenge the fact that plastic pots can’t be recycled.’

In the meantime, it looks like it’s up to us to say ‘no’ to plastic pots. Ask your local garden centre if they offer a recycling scheme, take your old pots to Dobbies if there’s one near you, and if you see a plant in a biodegradable pot, buy it.

Is your shed overflowing with plastic pots and are you frustrated by the recycling limitations? Or have you found a clever use for your plastic pots that you’d like to share?



I very rarely buy plants in pots – too expensive. I buy seeds and grow them on starting with seedling trays – transplanting to larger home “recycled” pots that I’ve had for years (actually bought 30 years ago as new empty plant pots) – it’s more interesting that way.

So my plant pots numbers are static – the number broken is minuscule. Very occasionally I’ve bought a plant in a fibre pot which is planted with the plant and degrades. But I’m talking at most four plants a year.


Like Richard, when I grow plants I use seedling trays, so rarely buy plants in pots. But this left me in a huge dilemma when I had just started gardening, and had accidental success – I had loads of seedlings but hardly any pots to put them in.

If anyone else finds themselves in this situation, I thoroughly recommend freecycle – I put a shoutout on freecycle and was inundated with people nearby who were in the same situation as Veronica – lots of pots and nowhere to put them!


Ah – when I started I did the same with seedlings – 100’s of them – what I did was to build continuous window box “shelves” four layers deep all along my 6 foot high garden fences – over 400 30″ long window boxes!! These are interspersed with large round plant pots for larger perennials

I then fill them with standard bedding plants and fushias (both trailing and bush) – It makes a really spectacular display from spring to autumn.

It has a superb added advantage in that my three very large – very clumsy – and very fast dogs can chase “invaders” or themselves to their heart’s content without damaging the flower beds.- the amount of damage to the window boxes has been minimal.

Cats no longer pop into my garden to dig and leave “presents”.

One last advantage is I can leave the flat part of the garden to the insect foodplants that help the ecology.- the amount of insects birds and mammals present in the garden show they appreciate the gift.

Sophie Gilbert says:
3 March 2011

I think this is partly related to recycling and packaging. Do without if you can, be parcimonious with them if you can’t do without them, freecycle if you can, or recycle if you get overwhelmed.

Steve Randall, Brad says:
3 March 2011

Packaging! Packaging! Packaging!
Lets say no to plastic and polystyrene pots, trays and boxes

There are flower pot and trays already been used by organic gardeners, they are made from recycled paper which are perfect and degrade into the soil at no extra cost or energy… ” NO MORE PLASTIC”

Mike Parker says:
8 March 2011

We run a recycling plant in Essex that only recycles pots ( poly propylene ) and trays ( polystyrene ). The process involves us cleaning and granulating the pots and trays. This is then sent on to plant pot and seed tray manufacturers. Essentialy this is a proper closed loop recycling model. All your plant pots and seed trays can be recycled – no problem! The problem we have is actually that we cannot get enough of the pots and trays to operate in a profitable way. The other issue is that the pots and trays that are dropped off at garden centres are loose and therefore incurr high haulge costs. We are looking at the possibility of using a commercial bin lorry to collect and crush on site? If you have any pots and trays or fabulous ideas we would be pleased to hear from you.

sally says:
2 April 2011

I belong to a residents association and I know of another close by, and the majority of members are gardeners. I think that this could be a good network from which to spread by word of mouth a scheme to collect twice a year from designated collection points. I too have a collection of pots which I can’t bring myself to put in the bin.

Lisa says:
11 April 2011

I work in a garden centre in Kent and we have 100`s if not 1000`s of plastic pot trays, that we have stored desperately trying to find someone to take them away for recycling so they do not end up in landfill. Can these be recycled???? Does anyone want them??

Jane says:
16 August 2014

Where are you in Essex, Mike? We also are in Essex and I would love to fill my car with the pots
that are overflowing In my shed. We now need the space for other things. Your letter was in 2011 you are probably no longer recycling pots but I thought it worth a try. It now being 2014!

Dawn says:
22 May 2011

We run a small nursery selling through an honestey system in front of the house. When we started we needed quite a few pots and got them off freecycle, now we have more than we need. My biggest bugbear is the non standarisation of them. It is nearly impossible to stack used pots in any sensible way, you search through your pile for all the ones that are the same only to find there are about sebven very similar but not quite types. If all manufacturers produced standardised sizes the re-use and recycle of them would be far easier. How about a campaign

Anne says:
3 June 2011

One thing you can do with your unwanted plastic flower pots is to give them away to people like me, I will be more than happy to take them off you any sizes or colours. I started a new hobby early this year – growing plants in containers and I am always running out of pots. I would be very grateful if you can send them to me and I can assure you that these will be put into good use, especially this time of year!
I look forward to receiving them from you soon.
Thanks and regards,


Hi Anne, good to hear that you’re getting into gardening! Unfortunately, we can’t allow you to post your personal details here, so it will be hard for people to send their pots to you! However, have you thought about using Freecycle? It’s a site where you can post requests for items wanted – or respond to people giving things away – and everything’s free. To find out more and join a local group visit their site:


Brian Whyer says:
10 August 2011

Although I have far too many small round pot, flimsy types etc. and freegle them, I still buy deep and/or square pots, or large pots for plants that will need them for several years. Now “Wyevale” only sell biodegradable standard pots. Useless to me if I don’t know if they will outlive the plants, and can’t be reused. Would you want a 20-30 year old treasured plant to fall apart when you pick it up?
All biodegradeable pots should be indelibly marked and dated with a use by date to be of any use to serious growers.