Recycling plastic plant pots

COP21, the United Nations conference on climate change, has ended with a ‘landmark’ agreement that climate change is something we all need to tackle together. Last week I was talking about what gardeners can do to reduce their carbon footprint, and a lot of it is about being thrifty with resources – something that tends to come naturally to us! Over the weekend, Ryan has done his bit by recycling plastic plant pots in my direction. He came across a newly landscaped commercial building, where the unwanted plant pots were being discarded.

If you come across ‘unwanted’ plant pots on landscaping sites or in skips (US: dumpsters) then the safest course of action is to ask whether you can have them. The legality of taking something that has been left out as rubbish is a greyish area in UK law, and you don’t want to risk being arrested for theft or trespass.

The new pots are a timely arrival, as I was starting to scratch around for anything to plant into. Like many gardeners, I used to have a large stack of empty plant pots, waiting to be reused. Some of them were even the same as these new ones – left over from a landscaping project where I used to work. I brought as many of them with me to the new house as I could, but when I moved out of the old house some of them had to be homed, recycled, or left behind for the new owners.

Recycling plastic plant pots can be a bit hit and miss – whether or not you can put plastic plant pots in your recycling bin depends on your collection arrangements, so you would need to check with your local council. But as long as they’re in good condition, there’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be reused. While keen gardeners might amass a sizeable collection, there are plenty of new gardeners who will be short of pots, and many school gardens and other community gardening schemes will be able to make use of them too. It’s just a case of finding someone locally who can use them. If you’re a fan of Freecycle/ Freegle then you can put out an email and see who comes to collect them.

A good wash helps when recycling plastic plant pots

We’re heading towards the season of seed swaps and potato days, and it’s worth taking unwanted pots along to them – you’ll usually find someone who is glad to take them off your hands. A few years ago I took a large number to my Alternative Kitchen Garden seed swap at the Hampshire Green Fair, and I didn’t have to bring any of them home! Although some people wanted just one or two, later in the day others were brave enough to ask for leftovers in larger numbers for their gardening projects.

In the unlikely event that you have amassed a collection of plastic plant pots that you can’t use, and can’t find a home for, there is now a commercial recycling scheme for them. Ashortwalk have developed a pot to product scheme, and their website has a map you can use to locate your drop off point – garden centres and nurseries that are participating in the scheme. The coverage isn’t perfect; I would need to head out to Waterperry Gardens to drop mine off, for example, but even if your local garden centre isn’t in the scheme (yet! Why not encourage them to join?) you may find somewhere on the list that you were going anyway.

They estimate that we all own about 39 redundant plastic plant pots, suggesting that over 5 million are languishing in UK sheds and garages. If that’s true for you then they can turn your 39 pots into a house sign or 8 bird feeders or even 39 plant labels! And, of course, the (important) flipside to recycling is closing the loop by buying recycled products.

As it turns out, even though my local garden centre isn’t recycling plastic plant pots, they do offer ashortwalk’s recycled products:

Recycling plastic plant pots into new products

So, maybe by the time I have amassed surplus pots again, they will be recycling them!

Do you have spare pots languishing in the shed, or do you find new homes/ uses for them?