Research

Where to recycle garden plastic #1: Council tips

After you’ve been gardening for only a short time you’ll find you begin to accumulate a little eddy of plastic pots, trays, compost bags and other detritus. A lot you can re-use in the garden: by far the best way of dealing with the stuff as it’s the most efficient way to keep it out of landfill sites and our oceans.

But the more you garden, the more pots you seem to have. They arrive on every plant you buy, people give them to you, and a lot of the time (compost sacks for example) you buy them even though you’d rather not. Once you’ve got through a few seasons the eddies have turned into tidal waves and you find you are drowning in more plastic than you will ever use.

The only possible way to stop this happening is to reduce the amount of plastic arriving in your garden in the first place, by raising plants yourself from seeds or cuttings, or sourcing your plants from nurseries and garden centres who use biodegradable pots or sell bare-root. This isn’t easy, though it is possible: I’m building a listing of places you can source plastic-free plants from, so more on this later.

In the meantime, of course, you’re stuck with the pots. Use what you can: but unless you want to turn your garden into a storage depot for plastic pots, you will have to get rid of the rest (promising yourself all the while that you will not replace them with more). And that means recycling.

You have three main options:

1: Council tips

Just under half – 49% – of councils in the UK offer a kerbside recycling service for rigid plastic – that’s plastic plant pots, trays and modules.

Lucky you if you live in one of those enlightened places: I never have. My local council doesn’t collect anything but clear plastic bottles, along with the other 51% of councils in the country.

Many small local tips can’t deal with them either as the only commonly recycled type of plastic is PET1 (the kind plastic drinks bottles are made out of) and most pots are PET2 (for a guide to which plastics are which in the garden, see here).

However larger tips will often take garden plastic – so it’s worth seeking them out.

Look for “rigid plastic” on the “what can we recycle” page on your council tip’s website. Friends of the Earth provide a very handy search tool on their website where you can find the nearest local tip to you which can take rigid plastic. Go to www.recyclenow.com/local-recycling, click on “where to recycle a specific item”, then click “plastic packaging” then “plant pots”. Click “continue” and it will ask for your postcode so it can tell you your nearest rigid plastic waste recycling centre.

They are not very numerous. In the whole of Somerset, Dorset and Hampshire I found just three, in Wimborne, Shepton Mallet and Andover.

My closest one is in Exeter, across the border in Devon (a county where almost all the tips in major towns seem to recycle bulky/rigid plastic: there is a lot of regional variation, it seems). This is a 56.8 mile round trip taking me about an hour and 20 minutes of driving plus time actually spent at the tip.

I am not sure how the environmental accounting works out, but it strikes me that you are undoing a lot of the good you are achieving by recycling your garden plastic by emitting that much pollution into the air as you drive there and back.

Yet another argument, it would seem to me, for reducing and eventually eliminating plastic from the garden rather than trying to use new plastic then recycle.

Anyway: I rang the nice lady at the Exeter recycling centre to ask what, exactly, they can take out of my garden.

She said there is no truth in the rumours that black pots are not recyclable whereas brown and green ones are; she said it really doesn’t matter what colour your pots are, black, green, pink or diarrhoea coloured, they all go in the same skip.

The pots have to be clean: so I’m afraid you must give them a quick dunk in a bucket of water first to wash off any excess compost. Time-consuming, but then you won’t be doing it forever as you’ll eventually be banishing plastic from your garden so you won’t need to. Right?

But what about non-rigid plastic: compost sacks, for example?

There is currently no facility for recycling these. They are made of polypropylene (PP 5 in the triangle) and therefore will have to go into the landfill skip along with the torn fruit netting and the polystyrene bedding trays. This is another one for my lengthening list of Things to Investigate Further: watch this space.

(Option 2 – taking your pots to the local garden centre – follows shortly…)

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