According to the EPA, of the nearly 27 million tons of plastic generated in the United States in 2003, only 3.9 of it was recycled—and very little of that was garden-related. Unfortunately, gardeners are in for a long wait before recycling horticultural plastic is widely accepted by processing facilities. Of the pots that can be recycled, most municipalities lack the resources to manually segregate those from the many more that can’t. Manufacturers, growers and nurseries have yet to seriously consider a uniform standard for recyclable containers, and with many variables and competitive interests to consider, finding an acceptable solution will be difficult.
Yet in the midst of this less than encouraging news, positive things are happening. In 2007 the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Plastic Pot Recycling program successfully recycled over 100,000 pounds of horticultural plastic originally destined for landfills. With the cooperation of seven local garden center drop-off sites, this year they take on their most ambitious endeavor with a goal of collecting and recycling a record 150,000 pounds of plastic.
The MOBOT recycling program was started in 1997, thanks to a plethora of pots piling up in Dr. Steve Cline’s garage, the program’s founder and Manager of the William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening. Since then, the program has collected and prevented over 300 tons of horticultural waste from going into landfills. The Garden’s successful program in St. Louis is the most extensive public garden-recycling program in the United States. Last month they received the Award for Program Excellence from the American Public Gardens Association in recognition of their innovative and pioneering spirit.
Elsewhere, there is a concerted effort by a group in the nursery and landscape industry to consolidate horticultural container sizes in an attempt to simplify the recycling process. A group will go before the ANLA Senate next month to start the ball rolling on this campaign. Although I applaud their efforts, standard sizes will have little effect on the bigger problem. I believe the answer is to standardize the materials used to make the containers so they’re all recyclable, no matter what the size. It will no doubt take the cooperation from many sides. Our industry does great things to beautify the environment, but it needs to eliminate the impact left behind in doing so. Now is the time and the issue is on the table.
What do you think?