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A little less plastic: a few practical tips

Plastic Free July (2020)

Each year we get the message to reduce our plastic use - how does it make you feel? 

I talk to a lot of home gardeners, and there's an overwhelming sense of "Yes, but HOW?" 

Here are a few tips of what I've tried over the last few years: it never seems like huge progress, but every little bit helps, right? 

My position on plastic is summed up in this motto given to the very first Waldorf teachers by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, and I think it's a motto that could be applied in every sector of society: 

Enliven imagination,
Stand for truth,
Feel responsibility. 

Plastic Plant Pots

These are ubiquitous, and are usually the first topic of plastic irritation for home gardeners. 

My advice? Keep them, wash them, stack them, and return them to the source or hand them onto gardeners who will use them. Perhaps there are some elements of plastic packaging we need to tolerate - but we can do so with care, elevating their status to that of 'incredibly useful'.

The advantages: most of them are well made, durable and reusable. I personally use them over and over, and have lots of customers who keep them for me to collect when I visit. This saves them time and saves me from having to beg for more plastic pots. No matter how many seedlings I sell, I refuse to buy new plant pots. The frustrating thing for my microgreen growing workshops is that washing the old pots takes a lot of time - it actually ends up making them more expensive to sell than if I were to use virgin plastic. 

The bigger problem: seedling distributors are using brand new pots, so these plastic punnets are still being manufactured - all the time. Far too often they are used only once, and end up in landfill. 

How can we make them more circular? 

How would you feel if your favourite brand of seedlings were sold in different sized pots of different colours? Please write to your seedling growers and ask them if they are embracing circularity in their business model. 

My ultimate solution: Look at these beautiful seedling trays from Orta Gardens. I'm saving up to have a few shipped over to New Zealand. Once here, they will be treasured forever. (Photo borrowed from the Orta Gardens website with permission while I wait for my own little pot to arrive - the most exciting purchase this month!)

Plastic Plant Labels

Far too often, the little bits of plastic get disregarded as inconsequential. This is a mistake. 

My advice: return these to the supplier - fingers crossed they can use them again. If not, then they ought to be responsible for getting them recycled or repurposed. They don't belong in landfill. 

The alternative: Can they be made from cardboard? Awapuni Nurseries have done a good job with packaging their seedlings in newspaper, with paper labels. All the packaging goes straight into the compost (and is often starting to break down already just from the moisture of the soil) 

My compromise this year is to use wooden coffee stirrers. Compostable, but they last just long enough to serve the purpose of identification. I'm looking for a source of these that have been used, and are now destined for composting. I can give them another life before they are tossed away. 

I sell my seedlings in larger boxes, some plastic some wooden. The plastic ones are light, durable, a fabulous size, deeper than most seedling trays, and I can grow 100 plants in each one. If you're going to use plastic, then let's at least minimise it. The wooden ones are custom made and beautiful. But they are heavy, and significantly more expensive. For now I offer both options. 

Bags of Potting Mix

This is my biggest issue... not only the single use plastic bag, but also the fact that people have lost the ability to make their own soil, to learn what each type of plant needs for optimal growth. 

Think about the odd circularity of this current system of selling potting mix: 

  1. Consumer buys bag of soil, grows food in it. 
  2. Weeds pop up around the edible plants, get put into a weed bag (usually made of plastic)
  3. Weed bags are periodically removed by a garden waste removal service and taken in a truck to a composting facility. 
  4. The weeds are blended with a wide range of material, often exposed to all sorts of weed killers and pesticides and turned into compost. 
  5. The finished compost is put into bags and put on a truck. 
  6. Truckloads of bagged soil is delivered to garden centres, and moved around store with forklifts. 
  7. Bags of soil get put into cars and driven to home gardens. 
  8. The plastic bag is sent to landfill. 

The alternative: Weeds are collected and composted on site. Some can be cold composted, others hot composted, some require fermenting... everything can be managed in a home garden and transformed into soil. No plastic, no trucks, no forklifts, minimal lifting. True circularity.

Gardening Tools

Plastic tools are very rarely made to last. Plastic buckets eventually crack and become useless. Plastic compost bins get chewed by rodents, and before you know it you have a rat cafe. 

The alternative: Well made wooden and metal tools. Stainless steel buckets. Wooden compost bins lined with hardware cloth. 

Coffee Grounds from cafes

I love how people are diverting coffee grounds from landfill, and how easy it is to now collect coffee grounds from cafes. Progress! 

What upsets me is how many cafes are storing these coffee grounds in single use plastic bags, and this is the reason I no longer collect them - I end up with the plastic. 

Please encourage your local cafe to use a bucket system. Buckets are my go-to solution for almost any product - wash it out and reuse it. Simple. 

What are your Plastic Free July gardening goals?

I don't want to make people feel bad about their gardens.... 

I truly believe that our shifts away from plastic needs to be led by business, and as a small business owner I am striving to use less and less plastic every year. I also challenge my suppliers by asking them to take back any plastic packaging, and to refine their business models to suit a more sustainable, circular economy. 

Please - be bold and ask for the changes you want to see. 

If you ever need some encouragement just remember these words from Rudolf Steiner: 

Enliven imagination,
Stand for truth,
Feel responsibility.



 

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