Plastic Fantastic ?

When I first got my allotment I was faced by what friends termed a field – a field of couch grass and brambles, and no shed. It was slow work, clearing and turning the ground over, bit by bit reclaiming the land. I was realistic I gave myself a couple of years, after all it’s a hobby, I’m not retired and I wasn’t about to break my back.

With no shed I used to carry my tools up to the plot, as the ground was covered in weeds and grass I grew seeds at home and would transport my precious efforts up to the plot and create planting holes, and generally I had successes. Yes there were outright failures, but mostly I would get something, a return for my love and labour.

The first couple of years, I got into a pattern, sow seeds at home transport them up. Whatever I did it had to be cheap and cheerful. No expensive tools and garden centre trappings for me. A focus on the practical.

Slowly but surely I got the tools together, I worked out what I needed to garden and grow. I’ve always gardened, but at home, pottering around, with a shed nearby, water on tap and at the ready, bags of compost delivered. Having an allotment made growing at home look like a picnic in the park.

The site is exposed to sea winds, potential thieves and vandals and local wildlife. I was aware of all of these and so gardened around these “threats”. And as I’ve continued to garden and grow I’ve become more aware, maybe a bit more knowledgeable about where I buy my seeds from, what types of seeds I like and prefer, the methods I now use (like mulching and no-dig), and recently my thoughts have turned to what I’m doing to the environment in general with my gardening. Yes, the reasoning behind the title of this post.

Over the years I’ve amassed a collection of pots, tools and garden ephemera, a lot of them plastic. I’ve avoided buying the cheapest of the cheap – I need sturdy. I’ve tried to buy things that are bio-degradable. I re-use wherever possible, like using toilet roll inners as replacement plant pots, making paper pots like Celia over at the Kitchens Garden or re-using yoghurt pots, egg cartons. You name it, I look at everything twice maybe three or more times before I throw it away. I always ask myself, can I re-use this or that item in any way?

Mushroom boxes

But as I gather my seeds and bags of compost around me I find myself questioning the plastic that has accumulated in and around my garden and allotment. How good is it for me or my world? Is it necessary?  I read a great post by a blogging friend Sharyn over at The Kale Chronicles, A Word About Plastic where she discussed the use of plastic in the kitchen and pointed us in the direction of another blogger My Plastic Free Life who is attempting to live life without plastic, like not buying food that has plastic to contain it etc. Think about a bit more, it’s a real challenge, and not one I’m sure I’d be able to achieve. But just that mere act of thinking is a step.

Is there a way I could reduce the plastic on my plot and in my garden without the mini plastic mountain I seem to be individually creating?

I don’t use chemicals on my crops, wouldn’t dream of it, besides there is no need just a bit of wising up and awareness needed. So why would I, a reasonably bright woman blindly keep on buying and using items that involve heavy chemical processes and resources, who hates the thought of trashing the planet, thinks about what she does and the impacts, buy plastic pots of all shapes and sizes? Yes a fair few of them come from garden centres – they have a bad habit of using pots once and throwing them away, an act of re-using on my part.

So it’s time to start changing. The changes will be slow, I’m not about to clear the decks and throw away all the plastic pots. But one step I can make, and at the same time realise a long-held ambition is to create a seed bed up on my plot. An area set aside for sowing and starting off plants that are then later transplanted into their final positions. In one stroke I can eliminate the need for plastic trays, the compost needed to fill them, the holding mini-plastic greenhouse in the garden used to harden them off. Simple but effective.

But life and gardening is complex, creating a seed bed won’t solve everything, I will still need to start some plants off early and indoors – tomatoes and chillies spring to mind, but maybe over time I will find a way to grow these delicates without the need of plastic. I will have to find a way to cover my seedlings to protect them from the harshness of frosts or hungry pigeons; at the moment I use plastic netting or fleece material. Then there is the plastic coated wire netting that the cucumbers love to trail up against. I have plastic based frames and sheeting. The more I look and consider the more I seem to find.

I need to take a pinch of that realism that I had when I took my allotment on and approach this bit by bit, in small bite sized chunks. Creating a seedbed is one way and one step.

One step at a time, one seed at a time.

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51 thoughts on “Plastic Fantastic ?

  1. Claire, I am touched that you are thinking about this and creating a seedbed to reduce your plastic use. Beth, at A Plastic-Free Life, has a few posts about gardening — you can search her site to see if there is anything useful. When I gardened at the park we used some pots made of cocopeat (coir) that melted into the garden over time, as paper will. Cheers!

    • It was a pleasure Sharyn I read so many blogs, peer into so many lives and sometimes something touches and reaches you.
      I’ve seen the coir pots but I’m not convinced, yes its a natural product, but it still has to be processed and then shipped and as ever to complicate matters I’m always concerned about rainforests – the whole deforestation thing in order to plant cash crops. Then there are Peat Pots, very similar but Peat is a finite resource. It’s a complicated business living in the 21st century!!

  2. Plastic does have its uses and if you are using it more than once that’s not so bad. When I’m done with it, I recycle and think that in some small way that is helping, better at least than sending it to the landfill.

  3. A few of our garden sites are now accepting the plastic containers that they sold to us with our plants. It’s a small step but it signifies an awareness that wasn’t there before. Hopefully, “biodegradable in landfill” grade materials will become more widespread. We’ll never eliminate plastics but we can be more thoughtful about its uses.

    • I think that is they key John, being thoughtful about how we use plastics, is there an alternative, and if not what can I do to make it better.
      I’m all for people power, the consumer can definitely change the way companies act.

  4. I’m with you on this one! Absolutely can NOT stand it! Right now I have 2 recycling bins full of broken plastic pots (accumulated in the past 2.5yrs) ready for this week’s waste management pick-up. I really wish the garden centers would find a different way to package the plants they sell!

    • I’m sure there are some great ideas out there – science moves on around us, it’s getting the companies to change their habits, they like what is convenient to them and using disposable plastic pots is easy for them. Humph!!

  5. A thought provoking post. I reuse as many pastic containers as I can, but so many go straight into the recycle bin. So much of what we purchase comes in these containers, quite honestly it’s a bit overwhelming. With concerns of food and product safety at an all time high I can see why the corporate producers have sealed everything from deodorant to tomatoes in plastic. It will be difficult to break out of the over-packaging cycle. As most consumers are happy to pick up a package and go about their busy day.

  6. I return my plastic to the garden center.. hopefully they reuse or recycle.. or maybe they just want to “look” green?? Plastic is, unfortunately, difficult to “weed” out of our lives! Good luck, Claire!!!

    • I don’t think I’ll ever weed it out – what about my lovely plastic handled secateurs, I couldn’t garden without those, but hopefully they will last me many many years. It’s the cheap throwaway stuff I object to most!

  7. Like any other advancement, plastic has good things and bad things about it. It’s still the best way to keep our foodstuffs from being contaminated, replace metals (which have to be mined), and a host of other things that make our modern lives possible.
    The flip side, of course, is that it takes up landfil space, or needs tons of water to be recycled.
    You’re on the right track, Claire…Thinking about our OVER-use is the place to begin. Wringing every bit of life out of things before discarding them. Growing our own veggies – no plastic needed to get them home from the store!
    Nice Post!

    • Thanks Marie, it’s a complicated business isn’t it! As I said in reply to Lulu I would struggle to carry a galvanised watering can full, but am ok with a plastic one. It seems it’s down to compromises – that and a seed bed !

  8. Claire, I am so glad you posted this…you have said it all so well! I also ready Sharyn’s post and haven’t stopped thinking about it! I like your approach to how you plan to make changes. The patience factor–one step at a time. I really hope to be making more changes myself. I get overwhelmed by it all sometimes, but you’re so right when thinking of gardening it always about patience and making small steps. Great post! Debra

    • Thank you Debra, sometimes it can be overwhelming can’t it, but I think to myself “baby steps, baby steps” sometimes we don’t need big strides or grand statements just small actions. I honestly believe just thinking about these things is a positive, and yes a small baby step, in the right direction

  9. Little by little and every step counts. We have loads of plastic here in Spain, they are only really getting to grips with recyclying now but we use and re use and then re use again.

    • It’s frustrating isn’t it? We visited friends in West Sussex this weekend and they get to re-cycle so much more than we do in Hastings. Definietly frustrating when it varies so much and yet only a few miles away. Humphh!!

    • Hi there, well I try and think about my impact on the planet, but it’s a bit rich coming from me at the moment considering all the flights I took over winter between France and the UK!! But I guess if we keep trying, then maybe, just maybe we will be able to make improvements in all our lives. Hope you have a greta week :)

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  11. I also have some similar plastic pots for my garden. It’s convenient but it’s not ecology, as you said. I’ll use them as long as possible and I”ll change a way of gardening.

  12. We use coir pots for our seedlings, and I’ve even started taking home milk delivery in glass bottles again after years of plastic jugs. The more I can reduce plastic, the better, is my mantra.

  13. An ongoing gardener’s struggle, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I have one of those wooden 2 piece blocks that makes small pots out of newspaper. I use the newsprint that we get in the mail, the pots are a good size for herbs and vegetable seedlings, hold up well for 2-3 months, then slowly dissolve when planted in the ground. Otherwise, I recycle yogurt and other plastic containers for starting seeds, reuse for several years, then recycle. The more fresh food I buy and grow, the less packaging I bring home, so it is win win on several counts , better for my health as well as the planet’s. Fortunately, my favorite local nursery accepts empty pots back from their customers, another good practice that I support.

    • It’s all the small things we can do as gardeners that if we counted them all up wold make an impressive list. I like your approach in the “more I grow the less I buy”. It’s such a simple statement but a fully loaded one !
      I meant to add thanks for sharing your thoughts and expereinces :)

  14. It’s so frustrating! I try to reuse the plastic pots and trays as much as I can, but eventually they break. Where I live they won’t even take them for recycling. I wish they would make pots out of biodegradable plastics, so that at least if they broke you could compost them. I’m thinking about trying soil blocks next year.

    • I’ve been looking at the soil blocks and I think I will try and experiment a bit. I did try a few years ago, to start big beans like butter beans etc off my taking a ball of damp soil and squishing the seed into the soil, then placing the soil balls in a plastic bag / plastic tray for them to germinate. After they germinated I planted them out straight away. It was a tip I picked up about getting things to germinate easily. It worked, but was a tad messy, but if you like making mud pies it would be right up your street :)

  15. I use my plastic pots over each year. A good wash and sterilizing and I think they will outlast my gardening years. Our garden center recycles. I can take back pots and trays back and get a credit or buy used pots for 10 cents. If they crack and are not usable again, they are totally recyclable. I think the plastic is better than coir or peat as they can only be used once.

    • I like the sound of your scheme where you get credit for taking the pots back, a win-win! And Karen you have made a great point about coir and peat pots – they are only single use, but I guess with the coir pots it is at least using a by-product, whereas peat is a finite resource. I no longer use peat based composts. And thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience

    • to be honest Celia, I just think the act of thinking about it is a step in the right direction! I think my favourite is the re-use angle, we throw so much away after only a single use. Such a waste. Hope you have a great week :)

      • Claire, I worked for a year at an industrial reuse centre and their aim was always reuse over recycling, as the latter needed a lot of energy to be expended. So often we buy or throw, thinking something can be recycled, without considering what the costs to do that are (both in dollars and environmental terms). Re-use is definitely the way to go wherever possible!

  16. I really loved this post, thank you. I do try and avoid plastic (most recently starting to use fabric mesh bags as produce bags, to then go in the canvas totes for groceries) and sometimes a reminder like this is just what I need to re-evaluate once again, find that spot once again where my habits are out of line with my desired actions, and improve.

    • Thank you for commenting and sharing your thoughts and experiences, I don’t think I’ve seen fabric mesh bags, only the plastic kind, I’ll have to go and have a look for them as they sound ideal.

    • Hi and thanks for your comment and link – I love re-use best! I saw a great way to re-use the clear plastic milk bottles that we have here in the UK the other day – a fellow allotment gardener had fixed a wooden pallet on it’s end (upright) and had attached lots of plastic milk bottles to it and then planted strawberries in it. I thought it was a great way to re-use things, plus it will keep the birds and slugs off the precious strawberries. Which reminds me, I must take a photo!! wishing you a happy gadening week :)

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