If you are a gardener or simply a plant lover who loves buying plants, you will most likely have a collection of plant pots or containers lying around. These pots come in various materials: from plastic to those made of terra cotta, ceramic, cement, metal, and so on.
While plants are beneficial to the environment, most plants come in plastic pots harmful to the environment.
So what happens when you need to dispose of your plastic plant pots? Thanks to technology, more garden centers now recycle plant pots. You can recycle or reuse your old pots to reduce their negative environmental impact while maintaining a green lifestyle.
Plant pots come in a variety of materials, including plastics, ceramics, fiberglass, and metals. Each of which has its advantages and disadvantages.
When buying plants from the garden center, you’ll most likely purchase plants in plastic pots before repotting them into the garden or something more decorative.
Plastic pots are lightweight, durable, and also very affordable. These plastic pots act as insulators and protect plants against harsh weather conditions. They also hold moisture much better than other pots.
They come in various types of plastic, including high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), high-impact polystyrene, and polypropylene. Of all types, only the polypropylene pot is not recyclable.
Ceramic/terra cotta is a popular pot material, usually in the form of a combination of earthen material hardened in a kiln that can come either glazed or unglazed. They are also very durable and can trap moisture needed for growing plants.
Most ceramic/terra cotta pots come in beautiful decorative designs that you can use indoors. But are these pots eco-friendly? Unfortunately, ceramic pots are not biodegradable. So you cannot recycle or compost them. That said, they usually last for a long time and can enjoy their place in the home or garden for many years.
These premium pots are durable, lightweight, and more expensive than other pots. They are also the perfect pick if you are creating an indoor oasis.
Because of their quality and price, they are harder to find and come in fewer sizes and styles. Fiberglass pots are brittle and can crack when dropped heavily and are also not the best insulator under harsh weather conditions.
Metal pots are durable and can be an excellent material for keeping plants. However, metals heat up when exposed to direct sunlight or hotter weather conditions. This means that the soil can dry up rather quickly, affecting the growth of the plant. You want to make sure you use metal pots for plants that can withstand the heat, like the cactus plant.
Plastic is the most typical plant pot material. Like other plastics made from petroleum, plastic pots are not biodegradable. If they are not recycled or reused, they end up in landfill, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Which? an estimated 500 million plastic plant pots are in circulation every year.
With the plastic so thin, they are more likely to disintegrate into microplastics, contaminating the water supply and the food chain.
Also, plant pots made of ceramic, terra cotta, and cement are equally not biodegradable. While they consist of natural materials, their processing, and hardening make them impermeable to air and water.
Some local authorities accept plant pots and trays in the kerbside collection. All you need to do is clean out any compost, soil matter, or dirt particles in your pot, and, ideally, sanitize them to kill plant pathogens before putting them in the recycling bin.
However, some localities reject plastic flower pots, as these might contain soil or other organics that contaminate other recyclables. Also, black plant pots, which are the most common, are generally not accepted because sorting machines do not detect them. Black plastic pots, therefore, need specialist recycling.
Typically you cannot recycle pots made from terra cotta, ceramics, glass, and tiles through recycling schemes. You can repurpose and recycle them at home or break them down for reuse.
If your neighborhood or city doesn’t allow you to recycle old pots in bins, you can take them to recycling establishments that offer plant pot recycling - read on for some options.
The Home Depot began a recycling program in 2009 to recycle plastic plant containers and plastic pots. With Home Depot, you can bring your empty pots for a refill. If your plant pots are no longer reusable, East Jordan Plastics Inc, Home Depot’s partner, turns them into new pots and trays as well as hanging baskets.
East Jordan Plastics recycles over 15 million pounds of used plastic containers every year. Home Depot’s core values hinge on doing just the right thing for communities and the environment. They are passionate about environmental sustainability and moving towards a circular economy.
Lowe’s is a home improvement store located in the USA and Canada. They have several garden pot recycling programs. They recycle anything from nursery pots and trays, clean mulch bags, as well as lightbulbs, plastic bags, batteries, and phones.
Dobbies is a garden center that accepts plastic trays or pots of any size, shape, or color. You can simply wash and drop off your plastic pots for recycling as long as they are not polystyrene. The pots, alongside other plastic waste, are sent for recycling or bought from local charities. Their recycling services cuts across all 26 stores located in North England and Scotland
Notcutts offers a recycling program in all its garden centers. They recycle used plastic pots into new pots and resell them. They also recycle plant trays made of polystyrene.
Garden pots may be accepted for curbside recycling. All you need to do is check with your local council in Australia. Alternatively, try your local garden center, as many now accept back the plastic pots and trays they sell their plants in for recycling.
Polymers Processors is a plastic recycling facility in Australia. They accept pots of any size and quantity.
Recycling plastic pots might not be entirely straightforward as it requires a trip to a specialist facility, especially if there are no recycling centers near you. The easiest option is to reuse your pots. Here are some ideas to help you creatively reuse them.
As we know, plastics produce harmful chemicals that largely contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in landfills. With plant pot recycling or reuse, you divert plastics from being thrown in landfills.
Recycling those old pots helps conserve natural resources like crude oil, coal, and water that would otherwise go into the production of new plastics. Single-use plastic is a scourge, and if we recycle nursery pots, they can be turned into something useful rather than simply waste.
The closed-loop system is a recycling process that involves collecting waste, recycling it, and making it into the same product it came from. Recycling plastic pots reduces the need for new plastics. It promotes the use of post-consumer plastics, which produce fewer carbon emissions.
Thanks to technological advancements, there are now recycling centers that accept plant pots, including the difficult-to-recycle black ones.
Also, several recycling programs help to collect these pots for recycling and reuse. You can check out some of these programs as mentioned above or enquire at your local nursery if they offer a take-back program. Choosing to recycle or reuse your plant pot is an effective way to reduce environmental pollution and protect our planet.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.