Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nursery, Greenhouse, and Landscape - What to do About Plastics

Plastics have helped to improve the economy of greenhouse and nursery production (from greenhouse and nursery films to plastic pots) and to expand the industry. Plastic pot production expanded the planting window for nursery plants and as such markets. However, plastic waste has become a major problem and the green industry is searching for ways to deal with the problem. The following are some thoughts on the subject.
  • Coordinated and comprehensive plastics recycling programs have been successful. For success, the industry must play a large roll in the process by getting customers to recycle. Landscapers as end-users can be an important part of the process.
  • Pots made from organic materials are not new to the industry. Peat pots and paper based pots have been available for years. Coir (coconut fiber) pots are also available. However, costs are higher for all these types of pots. Another issue is that peat is not really a renewable resource (is formed very slowly in nature).
  • Pots made from other organic waste sources from chicken feathers to manure solids look promising and may be available very soon. The key again will be cost. Also, the materials must be truely biodegradable (should break down in the soil or in a compost process).
  • A major question that needs to be answered is "if the cost remains higher for ecofriendly containers than plastic, will consumers pay more for plant products in these biodegradable containers". Research is underway to answer this question.
  • Longevity is a real issue for nurseries. Pot breakdown ahead of the needed pot life will doom many products. The balance between biodegradability vs needed longevity is a difficult one to achieve due to environmental variability influencing breakdown..
  • Potless systems may be an answer is some cases where plants are grown in cells until sufficiently root bound and then are pulled and shipped without any container. These systems are probably limited to use in the wholesale trade to landscapers and not to the consumer.
  • Ball and burlap production will still have a place with the reduced need for plastics being a good selling point.

Gordon Johnson, Extension Horticulture Agent, UD, Kent County.

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