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The Life Of A Plastic Pot

Sustainability, going green, and earth-friendly have become goals and
slogans that most businesses want to attach to their names. With the call to combat the effects of industrialization, companies have analyzed their processes and products to find safer, more ecologically sound solutions. The suppliers to the horticulture industry answered this new trend with the creation of plastic alternatives including the corn based PLA, wheat derivative “plastics”, and a slew of natural based pots created from rice hulls to coco fiber. Left out and often demonized during this green revolution was the basic plastic pot.

Long used as the standard industry container, plastic pots have had their own evolution. Their use became common the technology to mass produce cheap pots arrived. Before this period, growers sold plants directly from the ground, in wooden boxes, and even in metal cans! Their designs became scientific with drain holes placed to maximize different growing conditions and plastic grades to offer varying grades of root protection. The ability to produce colors and pictures on plastic pots appeared in the early 2000’s with virgin or non-recycled plastic being the main source. However, as the demand for plastics increased, cost started driving manufacturers and growers to look at alternative raw material. Manufacturers began to use recycled materials forgoing the bold colors and fancy printing in favor or cheaper pots in subtle, sometimes imperfect colors.

Then emerged the new “green” trend and growers that had been using recycled pots as a cost-saving measure were thrilled to find that their pots were already eco-friendly coming from 80-100% recycled plastic. The only non-recycled materials are the colorant chips. The rest of the plastic found in a grower pot comes from recycled soda bottle. These pots thought to be wasteful are actually helping eliminate the waste created by another industry. Another benefit is that they are produced domestically helping with local economies, while many pot alternative fibers are produced overseas and shipped across great distances.

However, there is a drawback to these recycled pots. Once the pots are used for plant production, it is difficult to find a recycling plant that will take them. Although the plastic is a recyclable grade, the soil debris left in the pots prematurely dull the blades of the recycling plant grinders With no outlet, most of these pots ended their recycling life and found their way to the landfill.

T&R Lumber, a distributor of Summit Plastic, saw this problem and approached us with a proposal to change the cycle. They believed they could find a commercial grinder to take this “dirty” recyclable material to reclaim it for future use. In return, Armstrong Garden Center stores became a community collection site for used nursery containers from any nursery. The response was overwhelming with pallets, then containers of plastic being returned and stored at our growing facilities. T&R finished the new cycle by picking up the used pots and taking them to a commercial grinder to start another life. Perhaps this time some of these old soda bottles might get to be a playground or park bench.