Sustainability at Home: Gardening with Less Plastic

Plastic has become such a normal element of gardening at home that sometimes it may seem that using it is not such a big deal. But it is. While indeed plastic is useful in farming and cultivation endeavors, it is far from sustainable, and actually comes with a price - damaging wildlife, polluting oceans, affecting animals’ natural habitat. In this post there will be ways for gardening with less plastic.

In a modern world where we are overly surrounded by plastic products and packaging, we have to be environmentally aware and aim at sustainability at home in any way we can. Why not start with your garden? It’s easier than you would imagine because there are many alternative solutions to horticultural tools like seed trays, hoses, fruit cage netting, bags, tags, labels, handles, pots, etc.

Applying sustainable practices at home is possible thanks to biodegradable materials like paper, bamboo, wood, coir, etc. There are some easy swaps you can make in gardening in order to minimize plastic use.


The Three Essential Rules

There are 3 essential rules to follow into making your garden more eco-friendly than ever: reduce, reuse, recycle. By trying to be environmentally aware and open to alternative solutions in gardening, you would be able to contribute a small part to the well-being of nature and oceans. You might even inspire other greenery enthusiasts to embrace the idea of sustainable gardening with less plastic.

Reduce Plastic

One of the most convenient ways to reduce the usage of plastic is not buying it. The market has so many non-plastic alternatives to offer that you can easily swap planters, tools and materials.

Different types of planters and modules are the most commonly used plastic components in horticultural activities. Switching to biodegradable planting products is one of the biggest steps one could take to ensure sustainable gardening.

Biodegradable pots are two types: those could last a few months and break down when planted into the soil; and those that last for years and can be composted after a while. The fast degrading type is usually planters made of coconut husks, wood chips, miscanthus or seaweed. While bamboo and rice husks pots are much more of a long term reusable option.

When it comes to tools, try to look for solutions with metal or wooden handles. Such garden equipment would last way longer and would be much harder to break, compared to those with plastic handles. More sustainable options to reduce plastic include buying or making a wooden compost bin; using wooden or recycled tags and labels for plants.


Reuse Plastic

Re-usage of plastic that is already in your home and garden could get your gardening needs sorted for the next few years. It is also a great sustainable way to ensure you would not keep buying equipment you do not necessarily need.

Instead of pilling up old pots, try to make the best of the ones you already have by buying seeds and planting them yourself - and not buying plants that are already potted. Let’s be honest, your new greenery, seedlings, and cuttings do not require a brand new planter to thrive and grow healthy. Another way to reuse garden equipment is by donating it to charities, allotment societies, schools, garden clubs, neighbours, and even friends.

Always keep your horticulture tools in good shape by cleaning and oiling them regularly. In case your lids, trays, and pots crack or break - try to fix them with silicone or glue, instead of heading to the farmers market to replace them. Turn leaves into mold, compost home waste, reuse bottles as water & organic storage and compost bags as rubbish sacks or ground covers.

Recycle Plastic

Make your contribution to the environment through recycling plant pots and other excessive plastic material in your outdoor space. However, you have to be aware that not all plastic is recyclable and not all recycle and garden centers would accept all or any of your available garden equipment.

Buying products made of recycled plastic could assure that you could do the same again. There are many gardening items that can be re-recycled - seed trays, labels, water butts, etc. For more information on what could be a good recycling option, ask your local retailer or conduct online research.

Keep track of the symbols on your home garden items (marking the type of plastic they are made of), as they can distinguish which products are actually recyclable. Sometimes different facilities could recycle different types of plastic, so it’s best if you check with your local authorities what is the case in your area.

How to Use Less Plastic

Handle the case with plastic that is already in your garden by following the 3 rules: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. This way you could keep the plastic materials out of the waste system for as long as possible. 

The sustainable alternatives to plastic are better for the environment, better for your plants, and sometimes even a better investment. Here is a list of gardening hacks that would further help you save nature:

Use metal tools

Opting for metal tools is a huge step towards gardening with less plastic. It is a fact that metal tools would outlast their plastic rivals because they are harder to damage and break. After all, the thing all green enthusiasts aim for is using their equipment for as long as possible without having to invest in new items serving the same purpose.

There is a certain disadvantage that metal tools have though - rust. It is crucial and necessary to take quality care of these gardening pieces to avoid rusty outbreak. Keeping them in a good condition requires a dry place storage, regular cleaning with a brush or rag with warm water and rubbing with mineral oil.


Choose Plastic-free labeling and tags

Plastic labels are often the first choice of gardeners because they are easy to write on. But is it worth it when you consider that they are so difficult to recycle and so easily broken? Fortunately, there are many sustainable alternatives like bamboo tags, wooden lollipop sticks, metal labels.

The most affordable tags are lollipop sticks that could be bought from craft shops. Wooden labels are also widely available but not as cheaper. The disadvantage of tags made of wood is that they are not really water-resistant and they are just a temporary solution.

Bamboo, on the other hand, is not as absorbent and labels would not get blurred for at least a few months. Slate metal tags are the most expensive kind and the only to label them is by engravement, which means they can be reused many times but only for one type of plant.

Always compost

When you buy compost from retailers, it comes in bags that could be reused in many ways - as organic storage, waste sacks, plant cover. They can also be recycled. But why not keep them to store your own home-made compost!

Gardening with less plastic begins with proper waste management. Composting is a perfect way of staying sustainable at home. There is an easy way to start your own potting compost. The required item you would need to store the organic matter could be a bucket or a wheelbarrow. All you need to do is blend layers of topsoil, leafmould, garden compost, grit and natural fertilizers in it, and let it develop for a few months.

Swap plants and buy less

When you think about gardening, you probably think about plants and nature. Unfortunately, you get to think again once the majority of seed packets are made of plastic to protect the seeds. Once these packs get opened and their contеnt gets planted, they immediately get thrown away and could not be reused.

Is there a better way to get seeds? Yes! Instead of buying regular packaged seeds, you can reach out to a seed swap community online, or simply get or give seeds to a friend or neighbour. Another alternative is buying bare-root plants or finding plastic-free nurseries that can supply you.

Even though new plants seem to require more garden resources, that does not mean you have to buy more. You can simply consider re-usage of old equipment, start home composting and ordering fertilizers in cardboard boxes.

Choose wood planters

Plastic plant pots are cheap and lightweight but easy to break and often non-recyclable. Bamboo, terracotta, fiber, coir, and cardboard pots are eco-friendlier and do the same job. Single-use biodegradable containers that can be planted in the soil, without disturbing a plant’s root system, are also widely available on the market but are not reusable.

Seed trays made of plastic are also quite difficult to recycle. Even though they are lightweight, their sustainable alternatives made of wood and bamboo are much harder to break and way more nature-oriented. Wooden seed trays can be bought from farming retailers or can be crafted at home from scrap wood.

Sustainability at Home: Gardening with Less Plastic
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Tina Martino

My passion is gardening. Along with my husband and children, each year we grow a garden large enough to provide our family of five with over half of our needed produce. Besides vegetables and a small berry patch, I also focus my attention on beautifying our home with strategically placed flowers, herbs, and flowering plants. Gardening is more than just a hobby; it is a way of life.

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