Recycled plastics in the garden: It’s all about the ‘green’

Our lawns and gardens seem to be all about the “green.” We spend a lot of green on our lawns and gardens – nearly $30 billion a year. We grow a lot of greens – nearly a third of us grow food in our gardens. And many companies now make outdoor gardening products with recycled materials, such as plastics – which contribute to sustainability and make our lawns and gardens a bit greener.

A greener landscape ahead

Over the past few decades, traditional materials used for lawn and garden products often have been replaced with plastics, due in large part to the modern material’s durability. Plastics resist rotting and shattering, so we can spend more time gardening and less on maintenance, repair and replacement. And with the rapid increase in plastics recycling, some companies have turned to recycled plastics for everyday products for our lawns and gardens.

For example, many companies make composite lumber with recycled HDPE polyethylene plastic, the type used to make milk jugs, as well as most plastic bags and film. This lumber looks similar to wood, but the plastic makes it extremely durable and nearly maintenance-free. And destructive insects have no interest in plastics. Used to build decks, fences, railings and swimming pool enclosures, lumber made with recycled plastics not only looks great and lasts a long time – it also keeps this valuable material out of landfills.

Manufacturers also are increasingly using recycled plastics for landscaping products. For example, landscape pavers made with recycled plastics are used to create patios, decks, walkways and other outdoor areas. They can be installed more quickly than traditional pavers, and each 1,000 square feet of pavers saves 500 scrap tires and 15,000 plastic bottles from landfills, according to one manufacturer. They also use 94 percent less energy and release 96 percent less CO2 in manufacturing than concrete alternatives.

Landscape edging made with recycled polypropylene plastic – the kind often used for yogurt cups and bottle caps – won’t “rot, fade, crack, splinter, or warp,” according to its manufacturer. And trellises made with recycled plastics “maintain color and shape … without weathering, warping, deteriorating, rotting or splintering” season after season. More gardening – less maintenance.

Greener tools and planters

Many essential gardening tools are made with recycled plastics, including wheelbarrows, compost bins, watering cans, pots, trays, tools, hoses, rain barrels and more. And some companies now use recycled plastics to make planters, stylish outdoor furniture and other decorative garden accessories. Many of these durable, weather-resistant products are made to stay outdoors year-round.

Where space is tight, planters and hanging pots made with recycled plastics from used beverage bottles can create vertical flower gardens and let you put some food plants almost anywhere – indoors and out. These planters don’t rust, and they can be reused again and again.

Contribute to a greener garden

Like a growing number of everyday plastic products – from plastic bags to shampoo bottles – the plastic pots and trays we use in gardening today can be recycled in many places. For example, 57 percent of U.S. households have access to a recycling program that accepts garden pots and trays. And some large retailers, such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, accept used plastic pots at their stores, where they are either reused or sent to recycling facilities. Some even come back as new pots.

Plastics – and, more recently, recycled plastics – are truly staking a claim in our lawns and gardens. In the often rain-soaked, sun-scorched, insect-ridden environment of our lawns and gardens, plastics make it possible to spend more time enjoying the fruits of our labor – often while contributing to sustainability.


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