A Question to the Council

There can be few subjects as hotly debated or the topic of so many new year resolutions over recent months than that of the usage and wastage of plastics.

In the course of my work I handle a significant amount of plastic, from the bags of compost to the hundreds of plant pots and trays we get through. It concerns me …no, it scares me, the impact we are undoubtably having in the environment.

We do what we can; recycling what is possible and reusing when we are able to. Good news is on the horizon however, and I would urge the gardeners amongst you to keep an eye out in your local garden centre for the new taupe coloured flower pots. These have been designed to work around the problems of inherent in black plastic pots and should be recyclable via kerbside recycling services.

However, there are concerns that across the UK, availability of these recycling services and the materials they will accept for processing, is subject to huge variation.

This has prompted me to investigate the situation with my local council and find out more…

17 January 2019

Re: The Plastic Issue: Plant Pot Recycling

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to you today as a frustrated and concerned resident of Chichester district, a gardener and allotment holder.  I am hoping you can enlighten me regarding Chichester District Council and West Sussex County Council’s stance on the recycling of certain plastics.

With the vast media attention and the scale of the issue, it cannot have escaped your attention that there is a significant movement within public perception and action, towards an increasingly sustainable relationship with plastic. It is widely accepted that in order to achieve a positive and progressive result, this movement must be supported across society and industry as a whole, with a collaborative approach from all sectors.

One industry that has recently taken steps towards reducing its impact and use of plastics is horticulture. It is my understanding that many horticultural retailers and producers across the spectrum of business size, have placed business rivalries and economic gain to one side and cooperated in a quest for a solution to the issue of recycling plastic plant pots.

(In the interest of transparency, I must at this point declare that I am an employee in the horticultural sector, working for an independent nursery and garden centre. I write this letter however as a concerned customer of horticulture retailers, as a resident of Chichester District, and as an environmentally aware gardener, not in any way as a representative for, or affiliated with, my employer.)

A new design of plant pot, which differs from the current industry standard black pots because it contains no carbon-black pigment, is now available. This means that the plastic is detectable using standard infrared sorting mechanisms at recycling centres, resulting in a product that end users (i.e. the customers of horticultural retailers, gardeners such as myself) can place in kerbside recycling bins rather than landfill.

I believe an increasing number of nurseries and plant suppliers are phasing over to these carbon-black-pigment-free pots. Indeed my local nursery, which is within the Chichester District, is planning to switch to the new pots within the next few weeks.

These new pots can cost the business involved, on average, over 20% more than their existing black plastic counterparts. It is clear therefore that this move is being made out of a matter of conscience and future sustainable business sense rather than any immediate or substantial economic gain, and as such should be applauded.

However, I am angered and frustrated to hear that kerbside recycling services provided by West Sussex Recycling within the Chichester District will not accept any plastic plant pots. I hope that I am mistaken in this, and the information I have been told is false.

Recycling services based on a ‘postcode lottery’ are completely unacceptable, not to mention well-out-of-step with public expectation, unhelpful and short-sighted. Significant and positive progress is being made in the face of the huge, wide ranging and complex issue of plastic usage and wastage. However the efforts such as those of the horticultural industry and consumers/gardeners is undermined and worthless without the relevant support infrastructure in place.

Please reply with a detailed explanation of the current position held by both Chichester District Council and West Sussex County Council on recycling plastics. As a resident of the district, can I, or can I not, place these new taupe carbon-black-plastic-free pots in my kerbside recycling bin? If the answer is no, please will you explain to me precisely why this is? Are there any changes to this situation, proposed and expected to come into place within the near future?

Please note that I am sending this letter via post and email in order that it cannot fail to be delivered. I will also be sharing a transcript of this letter openly on my blog. My readers will be waiting eagerly, as am I, for your response.

Yours faithfully

Sophie May Lewis

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