A Response from the Council: The Plastic Issue

Last month I published on this blog a letter to my district council requesting information on their policies around recycling plastic flower pots, in light of the introduction of new widely-recyclable pots into nurseries and garden centres. As a keen gardener and allotment holder, I am naturally concerned with the impact of my activities on the environment, and therefore particularly interested to understand the council’s position on this issue. For the full blog, and to read a copy of the letter I sent, please see my post “A Question to the Council”.

I am pleased to be able to share a response from the council and waste collection authorities. I will post a copy of their letter here, and continue with my conclusions if you scroll down!

Page 1. Continued below
My thanks to Sarah Miles, Recycling Project Officer, CDC, for her prompt and professional response via Twitter and to my letter. It is reassuring to know that there are open communication channels between residents and the relevant authorities.

So, if I am interpreting this response correctly, although the plastic can be recycled… recycled into what? It seems there is little appetite, either within the council or its network of waste processors and external companies, for finding a new life for the recycled material. They could recycle it, but no one wants to buy or use it; there’s no money in it.

So what’s the answer to this? Could pressure be put on thepot manufacturers to take back the recycled plastic material and reuse it intheir production? I believe there are plastic pot manufacturers already doingthis to a degree. Maybe we all need to be strict with out purchases and buyonly those items/products that say ‘made using recycled plastic’.

Perhaps a new scheme being trialled in the UK could provide the answer….

“Cumbria County Council has just started using a new bitumen substitute known as MR6, which is 60 per cent stronger and far longer lasting than asphalt… and it uses recycled plastic pellets. These pellets are the equivalent of 800,000 one-use plastic bags or 500,000 plastic bottles so the government could kill two birds with one stone – reducing the amount of plastic waste and helping with road surfacing at the same time.”

(source: https://www.uksurfacingcontractors.co.uk/2017/10/11/plastic-bags-used-fill-potholes-road-surfacing/)

Could pot-hole repair be the answer to the problem? Well, maybe not. Different types of plastic respond to processing in different ways, it is unconfirmed whether the hard plastic that is used for plastic pots would be in any way suitable for this sort of project.

“…For the general excellence of the garden…’

So what about simply not using plastic pots, phasing them out of production within the whole horticultural industry and switching to other materials? Sadly the beautiful terracotta pots and wooden seed trays used by my Great-Grandfather used in his award winning Brighton council estate garden, might be good for nostalgia-lovers like myself, but simply are not practical for large-scale horticulture. 

Plant hygiene levels are paramount in large or small-scaleproduction, and plastic is easier to keep clean, or disposable single use potsprevent build up or parasites and diseases reducing the need for harmfulchemicals. Of course there is also the obvious factor that traditionalmaterials such as terracotta or wood are bulkier and heavier, making them lessefficient to transport, store and use.

So traditional materials are out of the picture, but what about new developments in biodegradable plastics? Carrier bags and packaging can now be produced from plant resources such as potato starch… could this approach be transferred to hard plastics as well? More work in the area is desperately needed (perhaps you can lean on your local billionaire to fund the research and development?).

So it seems that in the modern gardening era, when the time and space for being self sufficient in compost and seedlings is mostly non-existent in the majority of peoples’ lives, and instant gardens are the dream of many, when the garden centre is more often than not a supermarket or shopping mall of horticulture, plastic still rules the day. There is no easy answer.

I still feel however that this increasing move to using recyclable pots is a huge leap in a positive direction. I am grateful to my local council for providing a frank and prompt response to my concerns, even if it might not have been the answer I was hoping for. I referred in the letter to a ‘postcode lottery’ with regards to the infrastructure, attitudes and policies…

What does your council say?

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