Over the last decade there has been a dramatic increase in the availability of biodegradable plant pots, and I’m finding them everywhere from my beloved Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens (which sells locally grown, organic veggie seedlings and THE most gorgeous annuals and perennials) to the embarrassed-that-I-shop-there-occasionally Home Depot. If you have a green thumb, and want to avoid a heap of plastic where your garden is supposed to be, read on to check out some of the biodegradable pots that are available; and be sure to tell give your local nursery a thumbs-up if you notice they are using some of these options (consumer praise – and criticism – works!)
Photo © Steven Depolo
I don’t know about you, but after seeing first-hand the plastic that washes up on beaches on recent trips to Costa Rica and Aruba, one too many pictures of plastic found in bird bellies, and, oh yeah, the GIANT Pacific Garbage Gyre (actually there is a plastic gyre in every major ocean now), I have made it a personal goal to use as little plastic as humanly possible — from buying my bath products in bulk, to forgoing plastic wrap in my kitchen. (Check out Inhabitat blogger Brit Liggett’s voyage to the South Sea to document the science behind ocean plastics pollution.)
I also compost, take public transportation, and grow a bunch of veggies every Summer. And the last couple years, my gardening side (which I do for mental health reasons as much as environmental ones) has come into conflict with my plastic-eschewing one. As a (lazy) gardener, you see, I usually buy small plants to pop in my well-composted beds as opposed to growing from seed. I don’t have great windows to start seeds in front of, and frankly, the extra steps involved in growing from seed are enough to keep me from planting at all. And in Connecticut, my short growing season means that if I wait until it’s safe to plant seeds outside, I won’t have veggies to enjoy until way late in the season.
But often, the baby cucumber, pepper, heirloom tomato, and eggplant seedlings come in plastic pots, which I’m able to recycle, but it seems like such a waste to introduce plastic into the whole cycle, especially since there are such great alternatives.
There are a few different kinds of compostable planters; and admittedly, some are tougher than others (I’ve had some types fall apart while sitting on the ledge of my patio after a good rainfall, which made me get them into the ground ASAP) and if you start your plants from scratch, it might be fun to make your own starter containers (read on for ideas) or invest in degradable pots. If you are looking for larger, lightweight pots that sit on your patio or fire escape, there are tougher (but still non-plastic) varieties available. A great inexpensive, biodegradable, and classic option is the always-beautiful red clay planters (you can often find these aged prettily and used).
I recently wrote a whole post about all the amazing things that can be made with vegetarian animal poop, but forgot all about plant pots! CowPots are made from – you guessed it – 100% cow dung, and have been featured on CNN and Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs”. And not to worry; weeds, seeds and stink have been removed in the manufacturing process.
There are a host of ways to grow seedlings in containers that will not only hold seeds and baby plants in place, but actually nourish the young plant and can be stuck right in the ground, making transplanting easy (and which is also ideal for not disturbing tender roots). All sorts of natural materials can be used; check out pots made from coir, pots made from recycled paper, bamboo, and heck, you can even make your own from toilet paper (or paper towel) rolls or newspaper, according to these handy instructions. Another alternative involves the reuse of a biodegradable material: eggshells!
Durable But Biodegradable Biobased ‘Plastic’ Pots
If you need a good, long-lasting alternative to plastic pots then check out Ecoforms pots, which are made from rice hulls (which are a by-product of rice harvesting). They last about five years outdoors before they start to break down, and a lot longer inside, if not exposed to the elements. Unlike plastic, they will eventually degrade, and according to the company’s site, plants grow better in the Ecoforms pots than in plastic.
Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick and author of The Eco-Chick Guide to Life (St. Martin’s Press). A green living expert, she contributes to The Huffington Post and Mother Nature Network (MNN.com)