Recycle and reuse garden pots (Google / The Seattle Times)

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Recycle and reuse garden pots


Scripps Howard News Service

Whenever we garden, we do many wonderful things for the environment.

But in the process, we’re often not aware of the amount of trash that’s generated while we’re creating all those beautiful spaces — namely, horticultural waste in the form of garden plastic.

Most of the time, in spite of our best intentions, it ends up in our landfills.

Eco-friendly gardening doesn’t end with simply backing off the chemicals. You should be thinking about what to do with the plastic containers those plants came in. Ideally, reuse the pots to hold plants when you’re transplanting or starting new cuttings. I use them to give away plants from my garden to other gardeners. But what if you have too many containers, and storing them at home is no longer an option?

According to the Missouri Botanical Garden (commonly referred to as MOBOT), more than 350 million pounds of gardening plastic is generated in the United States each year. Recycling is the eco-friendly answer, and many garden centers have stepped up to the task of collecting and recycling horticultural plastic, which includes used pots, flats and even garden markers.

In a recent episode of “Growing a Greener World” (my series on public television stations across the country), we featured the highly successful and celebrated recycling program at the Missouri Botanical Garden, which operates the most extensive public garden recycling operation in the country. Just last year, this endeavor collected a record 130,000 pounds of horticultural waste. Since its inception, the program has saved over 850,000 pounds (425 tons) of plastic garden pots, hanging baskets, cell packs and trays from landfills.

At MOBOT, the program works like a well-oiled machine, but it requires lots of volunteers along with the cooperation of the people who drop off their recyclables. Before depositing their plastic, gardeners are asked to presort it into 2-, 5- and 6-numbered plastics. Metal rings, soil and rocks should also be removed ahead of time. People bring their material to a participating satellite garden center in the area or to the main sorting and grinding facility at the garden’s Monsanto Center. MOBOT’S army of volunteers then re-sorts the mountain of plastic before it is ground into tiny chips. Giant boxes of these multicolored flecks are then sent to a local company where they’re melted, molded and made into plastic lumber pieces used in decking, outdoor furniture, retaining walls, pallets or other recycled products.

At the Monsanto Center, the plastic lumber is used for raised beds in an adjacent vegetable garden. MOBOT also sells the lumber, with proceeds helping to fund future collections and recycling. Here, the process goes full circle and people can see the tangible results of their recycling efforts. Although the MOBOT program is an excellent model, it requires money, time, energy and the cooperation from many to be sustainable.


Joe Lamp’l, host of “Growing a Greener World”on PBS, is a Master Gardener and author. For more information, visit


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.