December 2005

Gardeners recycle plastic from ‘pots to planks’

St. Louis, MO— What began as one gardener’s answer to a cluttered garage has grown into an earth-friendly initiative that has kept more than 60,000 pounds of plastic garden containers out of landfills this year alone.

“My garage was filled with many gardening containers and trays left over from landscaping projects. I needed somewhere to go that could reuse or recycle them,” said Dr. Steven Cline, manager of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening. “I learned that my gardening friends were having similar issues, so I decided to put it all together and find a recycling solution.”

Since 1997, the Garden’s “Pots to Planks” program has offered St. Louis area gardeners an environmentally friendly way to cut down on waste: recycling their plastic garden pots. The program is unique in its aim to reduce the plastic waste stream by focusing on the gardening public, not only in the collection but also the resulting products. Increased participation by local individuals, garden centers, landscapers and green businesses contributed to the Garden’s 60,000-pound collection of horticultural plastic during six weekends in 2005, a new program record. Recycled pots were turned into thousands of plastic lumber planks available to home gardeners building raised beds or backyard composting bins.

Over just four weekends in 1997, the Garden’s first annual Plastic Pot Recycling collection amassed 20,000 pounds of horticultural waste, including plastic gardening containers, polystyrene and polypropylene cell packs and trays. To date, over 180 tons of pots and trays have been accumulated in seven years of weekend collections during the month of June.

In 2003, the Garden partnered with a local company, Environmental Recycling, Inc. (ERI), to turn the collected mixed plastic into lumber planks and raised bed gardening kits, which were sold back to the public.

“The popularity of the lumber and raised beds was immediate, as gardeners made the connection between the recycling event and a recycled product that they helped to make,” said Cline.

In 2004, grants from the Missouri Environmental Improvement and Energy Resource Authority, in partnership with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, assisted the Garden’s purchase of grinding equipment to process collected plastic into chips that are easier and more cost-effective to transport to ERI. Grants from the St. Louis-Jefferson Solid Waste Management District have also enabled the Plastic Pot Recycling program to increase in scope over the years, allowing the purchase of additional equipment this year to handle larger volumes of accumulated plastic.

Monrovia Growers, a leading grower of containerized plants in the United States, also contributed $5,000 in 2005 to support the Pots to Planks environmental effort. “We are very pleased to have Monrovia join us in what could be the beginning of a more concentrated effort to develop methods to handle this waste stream and model a system others can adopt,” said Cline. “Monrovia is taking environmental leadership with the Missouri Botanical Garden to address this issue.”

The 60,000 pounds of plastic collected this year were recycled into almost 3,000 planks of durable black “lumber” for raised garden bed kits and backyard composting bins. Raised bed kits come ready-to-assemble with simple instructions and hardware included. Three available sizes range in price from $34.99 for a two-foot-by-four-foot Side Planter to $74.99 for a four-foot-by-eight-foot Expert Planter. The Backyard Composter consists of three-foot long recycled boards with coated rebar connecters at each corner. The product is new in 2005 and retails for $94.99. Individual plastic lumber planks are also available for $9.60 each and are ideal for building decks, picnic tables, or any other projects where wood and water meet.

Choosing plastic or composite lumber saves the time, labor and expense of replacing rotted, warped or splintered wood, says the American Plastics Council website. Staining is not required because color is molded in. Sealant is unnecessary because plastic is inherently water and pest resistant.

Proceeds from the sales are funneled back into the Pots to Planks program to support increased collections each year and the purchase of additional processing equipment.

Organizers anticipate further expansion of the program in 2006, said Cline. Future objectives include establishment of satellite collection centers for customers at nurseries and garden centers, increased marketing of the recycled plastic lumber, raised bed kits and compost bins through retail centers, and expansion of the program regionally and into other areas of the state.

Missouri Botanical Garden staff are working with colleagues at Powell Gardens in Kansas City to begin a program on the western side of the state.

For more information, visit their site at www.mobot.org/hort/activ/plasticpots.shtml.


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