Pacific Northwest

BY LUCY HARDIMAN / Portland, Oregon, USDA Zone 8

Pot It Forward

We gardeners may be stewards of the Earth, nurturers of soil and plants, but we haven’t always known what to do with our trash. There is a good bit of irony to be found among the millions of plastic nursery pots that, over time, have passed through our hands and into the landfill.

As a woman of a certain age, I am willing to divulge that my life as an adult gardener began some 35 years ago. Just thinking about the number of black plastic pots that I alone have discarded in those years is frightening. Not only do I purchase plants for my own ever-changing garden (really a science experiment in disguise) on a regular basis, but over the years I have designed hundreds of planting plans for clients. It is hard to reconcile the multitudinous joys of plant lust with guilt about plastic detritus and the years it takes to degrade.

It’s no comfort that I am one of thousands of gardeners faced with this dilemma. A quick trip to a small urban retail nursery illustrates the depth of the situation. According to the owner, they sold 110,000 plants in various-sized plastic containers in 2005. A call to a large suburban nursery revealed more mind-boggling numbers. They sell 150,000 plants in four-inch pots annually, plus 100,000 plants in gallon pots, not to mention plants offered in pony packs, round quarts, and 3- to 15-gallon shrub and tree pots.

Last spring, Cracked Pots, a Portland, Oregon, nonprofit project committed to reducing waste and inspiring the public to reuse materials, sowed the seeds of RePot: A Plastic Pot Recycling Project. The four-month pilot project—a collaboration between Cracked Pots and three local companies—was so successful that it will continue this year.

Here’s how it worked: Far West Fibers and the Portland Recycling Center added plastic nursery pots to the list of items that they accepted at their drop-off depots from April through July. A marketing campaign suggested that gardeners “weed” containers out of their garages, “plant” the seeds of recycling, and “transplant” them at the closest participating depot. Conscientious gardeners who had been hoarding pots for years turned out in droves. By the end of the four months, 110,000 pounds of containers had been turned in. That’s more than 50 tons!

The next stop for the pots was the Agriplas, Inc., facility in Salem, Oregon, where they were converted into pellets. The plastic pellets were then sold to other entities for manufacturing into new nursery pots and surfacing material for pathways and playgrounds.

The circle is now unbroken. Gardening’s dirty little secret has been reborn as an example of recycling and reuse. Cracked Pots has received queries from green organizations, businesses, and municipalities interested in starting similar programs. Let’s hope that this innovative pilot project continues to sow the seeds of change. H


Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gold Bar’

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gold Bar’, a new introduction from Oregon’s Joy Creek Nursery, is aptly named. Radiant gold stripes span the blades of this compact but upright maiden grass, a slow grower that reaches five feet at maturity. Claret-colored inflorescences appear in late October, just when gardens need an infusion of color. Sources, page 70.

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