Gardeners recycle plastic from ‘pots to
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
“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
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
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
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.