Why it’s going to be much harder than we think to give up plastic.
I’ve got a bamboo toothbrush and my cotton buds are organic.
I don’t use plastic bags. That’s me done then saving the world, right?
It’s is going to be so much harder than we think to ditch the plastic, because plastic is everywhere and according to National Geographic, 91% of it is not recycled.
Take a greenhouse. A small commercial one that grows on the flowers that you buy at the local garden center or supermarket. I work in one, a few hours a day every week.
When I first walked through the doors I was taken aback at how much plastic there is, and how steep the climb is going to be to change each and every industry.
Let me walk you through the basic plastics of the greenhouse.
The rolling tables all have polystyrene inserts. Onto those are plastic covers with perforated holes. Then on top of those are the plastic plant pots, either single use, that many will throw away, or a slightly sturdier version with plastic handles so you can hang them up as hanging baskets.
All the plants arrive in plastic trays either covered in cellophane, or they have individual plastic covers. The trays are all marked in plastic with the manufacturers logo, which of course gets ripped off and goes straight in the bin.
Plastic crates are used for transport, and all the rubbish is collected in industrial plastic bags. The compost for the plants arrives in plastic bags, and we use latex gloves to keep our hands clean.
This is one little greenhouse, in a little town in Iceland.
In the UK it’s estimated that people use 500 million plastic plant pots each year.
That’s 500 million ending up in landfill and no doubt the ocean.
Now magnify and multiply that globally. This is one fraction of an industry that needs to tackle the amount of plastic it uses.
Which leads to the next question, can it be done in time?
If we focus on the humble plastic pot.
The research is encouraging and the alternative choices are pretty huge compared to the single plastic option .There’s coconut coir pots, bamboo fibre pots, composted cow manure pots to name just three — they all have the advantage of being from renewable sources, all are biodegradable and all it seems are kinder to the plants. However, some have found the plants suffer from dehydration quicker, as the bio pots absorb more water.
But then there is the cost. Generally per 100 pots, the biodegradable are around £4 ($5) more expensive, but when you factor in the environmental aspect — then the cost is negligible for us, bearing in mind we are in a climate emergency.
Yet how available are these pots? And is it up to you to find them and transplant on your plants, meaning you still have a plastic pot, or are the big manufacturers starting to use them?
I’m not sure I could find many alternatives here in Iceland. We are a small Island, with a small population,(350’000) and not much grows outside to be honest. We have a six month winter, and if there’s not much sunshine, (last year we recorded 6 days of sunshine for the entire summer!), then the flowers really struggle.
If I buy a plant here, I want it to grow and last for years because it will it be an expensive item to buy. I’ll want a return on my money. As such I use clay pots for indoors, but all the plants arrive in plastic pots.
Business owners are not going to voluntarily change.
Not unless the pressure comes from the consumer. 0.13p per pot versus 0.108p might not seem a lot — but when it’s multiplied by thousands, it adds up. Sure the biodegradable pots can be used for a few years, but plastic is hardy, it lasts for years and the systems are already in place that produce them.
How many manufacturers of the alternatives could step in and take the load if we stopped using plastic pots tomorrow? This is an important consideration, because it’s part of the problem.
And how many gardeners really think about it? How many greenhouse owners think about it?
I’m really hoping that now the climate change issue is at the forefront of the news and hopefully everyone’s minds, then consumer pressure will apply.
It really is up to us.
And me, working in an environment full of plastic.
What do we do if we have stacks of plastic pots?
We re-use, re-use and recycle. I found a video that explains 6 ways you can utilise your plastic pots, a few mentioned are fun and creative.
We, the consumer are going to have to take the lead on this, and in all industries.
We need to start asking for biodegradable pots when we go the garden center and the supermarket. We need to be prepared to walk the talk and pay the extra pennies. Then if enough of us do — it will become unacceptable for plant companies to use plastic at all.
And when you think about it long enough and hard enough, it really doesn’t make sense that we grow plants in anything other than biodegradable pots.