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The elusive biodegradable pot: why it is difficult for gardeners to be environmentally friendly

It starts with a plastic pot. When Malcolm Woolmore, the head of Oakland’s Lindale Nursery and avid sailor, found a disposable plastic flowerpot on a pristine beach near Great Barrier Island, he was stunned. “I thought to myself,’This is not very impressive.’ I want to do something with my little method to help get rid of the plastic.”
That single discarded plastic pot allowed Woolmore and Lindale to embark on a long and winding road looking for alternatives to disposable plastic pots for their seedlings.
Plastic waste-in packaging and labels and flower pots-is a perennial thorn for modern gardeners, who usually try to celebrate the natural environment and do it properly. As companies such as Lyndale Nurseries have discovered, this is not an easy problem to solve.
From breeding nurseries such as Lindale to large retail chains such as Kings Plant Barn, every stage of the gardening department has different requirements from the products they use to indoor plants, especially in terms of robustness and longevity. Unfortunately, there are currently few alternatives that can meet all these different requirements and can be mass-produced to meet demand at a reasonable cost.
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Although the Ministry of the Environment and the industry organization New Zealand Plant Producers (NZPPI) are committed to finding solutions to the problem of garden plastic waste, the current work mainly falls on individual nurseries and businesses and gardeners.
For Woolmore, this means testing biodegradable options in Lindale. The first attempt was made about 15 years ago and involved the use of pine resin plastic and existing injection molding technology.
When this didn’t work, Lindale turned to a Chinese company that could make flower pots using the same process, but this time using ground bamboo and rice husks, and bonding them with a secret ingredient.​​ Together. It works to a certain extent, causing the roots to eventually destroy the pot wall. Then place the pot with the plant in a larger pot at the point of sale. So far everything is good-except for the customer resistance, thinking that the retailer is trying to sell them small factories at a larger factory price. “If something goes wrong with that plant because it is different, it is always blamed on the flowerpot,” Woolmore said.
But the problem is not just in perception. “The main problem is the secret ingredients that we have no control over. We just don’t know how long it will take them to decompose from batch to batch, even if we specify that we want them to decompose within eight to nine months. We have a lot of things It broke quickly and fell apart in the nursery. We have other samples here that have not yet been decomposed.”
So the company went back to the drawing board. After trying out several other products and conducting more searches, Lyndale is now entering the second year of the Grownets trial period, which is made from 100% biodegradable polymers in the Netherlands—also a secret formula— —Similar to the hair net. “It seems to work very well. We have eight to nine months, and then they seem to disappear completely. Soil organisms seem to eat them,” Woolmore said. “But this is only part of our production that fits it. It depends on the type of root system.”
Although Lyndale has at least some success in reducing plastic waste, other parts of the garden and nursery division seem to be less successful.
As Rachel Barker, CEO of the New Zealand Plastics Industry Association, said, although there are some interesting and truly compostable developments in the plastics sector, many biodegradable products sold to consumers are also risky because They actually require extremely special conditions-not all of them can be easily replicated in a home garden-to be broken down.
“Our suggestion here is to require evidence to prove the time required for the decomposition of these materials and what conditions are needed to achieve this goal,” she said. “If they are different from the’real world’ conditions, please be careful. The time required for decomposition may be much longer than expected.”
The New Zealand Plastics Association hopes to see more systems in place to make it easier for consumers to reuse and recycle disposable plastic cans.
Many of these plastic basins are made of No. 5 polypropylene plastic (PP), which is in great demand as recycled plastic in New Zealand. However, although 70% of councils collect PP (meaning 87% of the population can recycle PP), most roadside collections specifically do not allow the use of flower pots due to dirt.
“We want to see all plastic flower pots made of this material be reused as much as possible, and then sent for recycling at the end of their useful life,” Buck added. “What we really need is a product management plan that brings all relevant companies together to form a nationwide collection, reuse and recycling system.”
The system will need to handle a lot of pot cleaning work to remove things such as highly abrasive pumice that is commonly used in potting mixes and is incompatible with the recycling process.
Moreover, at the end of the spread of the nursery chain, each pot needs to be cleaned and disinfected to avoid the spread of pests and diseases, so large-scale reuse of pots becomes complicated.
“We used to be able to fumigate cans with metal bromide, but correctly, this has been banned,” Woolmore said. “So there is no effective way to disinfect them, because we are talking about millions of cans.”
But it is easier to clean and reuse pots on a household scale. Garden retailer Kings Plant Barn now has reuse/recycling exchange tank stations in all stores as part of its plastic waste reduction goal. Customers can put down the used flower pots and let other customers pick them up and repot or plant them. Unused flower pots are collected and sent to New Zealand company Future Post, which recycles plastic into fence posts.
But Kings General Manager Chris Hall said that most of the cans left at the station were taken away by other customers and reused. “It is very popular, and for us at the moment, recycling and reuse is a more feasible way than trying to find effective biodegradable options,” he explained, adding that customers increasingly want garden centers and nurseries More and more active implementation of sustainable practices. “We are studying everything we do, from our packaging and mail to our packaging materials, and working with our waste disposal company to reduce what goes into landfills.”
According to Kath Irvine, a gardener from Manawatū, everything helps. She has been trying to find ways to reduce plastic waste in gardens and edible backyards of businesses. “It’s really ironic. Create these beautiful organic gardens on the back of all the plastic,” she said.
She is also skeptical about the effectiveness of current biodegradable flower pots for home gardeners, and believes that it would be better to encourage people to get rid of the mentality of disposable use. “I’m not sure if biodegradable is much better than plastic. Can you really compost them at home? Once you start researching it, there will be some greenery there. But I appreciate that people just try to be different in difficult situations Thing.”
Irvine works with other gardeners to help them create thriving edible gardens and will soon publish a book on the subject. She firmly entered the reuse camp. “Imagine how many plastic cans and six-compartment containers in the world can be recycled and reused.”
In her own garden, Irvine’s approach is to minimize the amount of products she uses and the amount of plastic packaging she accumulates. “It is difficult to completely eliminate plastic, so start with the goal of reusing it and reduce it as much as possible. If you can’t cut the flower pot, look at other ways to reduce other plastic.”
She also buys plants from the Awapuni nursery in Manawatū, which has a reputation among loyal customers for avoiding plastic pots and wrapping seedlings in newspaper.
Henri Ham, the owner of Awapuni, said that the company handles approximately 15 tons of newspapers each year, wrapped in “most of the plants leaving the property.” Most are planted in plastic trays, washed, disinfected and used “repeatedly”, and then transferred to newspapers for sale.
Hamm said the seedling can survive on paper for about a week, and then it will start to get wet. The plant racks at the point of sale have capillary pads to prevent newspapers from drying out the soil.
But Awapuni does not use newspapers for everything. Locals and perennials are packed in traditional plastic PB bags. “We are always looking for alternatives, but it is really difficult,” Ham explained. “We need things that are held together during the growth of [plants] and through transportation and retail. So it needs a long lifespan, but if it is biodegradable, then you don’t want it to be here. It lasts too long after that.”
At this point, there seems to be a lot of problems in finding biodegradable solutions that do not need to spend a lot of money or require a lot of infrastructure investment, but are still feasible in a fairly specific period of time.
NZPPI chief executive Matthew Dolan (Matthew Dolan) said that this is not just a question of finding plastic alternatives. “There are many alternatives to plant potted plastic. Some people are really busy innovating and looking for clever ways to use them.
“The challenge is to scale up. To scale anything, you need a lot of money. You need the right materials, and you need to integrate them into the supply chain for testing. It’s a lot of work, and it’s really expensive.”
But there is good news. Dolan said that as the use of paper cones in the early stages of reproduction continues to expand, a large amount of plastic has been removed from the supply chain. There are also opportunities to create a circular economy and reuse plastics in a more efficient way. “Currently it is temporary. It is individuals who set up recycling bins and try to bring the plastic back to a place where it can be cleaned and reprocessed. The entire industry needs to work together to find the most effective way to do this.”
Dolan said that the tipping point may arise with government intervention. “Plastic flower pots have been given priority product status, which means that they will be regulated in the future. A recycling system may be mandatory in the future. It is then up to the industry to decide how it will respond to the legislation.”
At the same time, NZPPI is focused on trying to bring the entire industry together, copying some of the existing primary sector recycling systems. “Primary industries have various waste recycling processes, such as silage plastics and containers from farms. They have resource-rich large-scale coordinated recycling systems.”
The organization also works with growers in Australia to understand how it can solve the same problems there. “Our industry does understand the demand. This is the most important, and there is a lot of promise to actually make progress,” Dolan added. “But we do need public participation. We need them to commit to putting their pots back into the system.”
This article has been updated to reflect that the No. 5 polypropylene plastic canister is explicitly excluded from curbside collection.

Post time: Oct-20-2021
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