I know I’m not alone when I say that sustainability is really important to me. I’m raising a young boy and I want there to be something left of this planet for him to enjoy when he is growing old. I feel motivated to leave this place better than I found it. To be honest, it scares me that I can see the changes happening before my own eyes: the beaches we visited this summer have shorelines that look completely different than they did when I was young, and the fields and forests we used to drive by are subdivisions and shopping malls now.
When you think about it, it’s a tad ironic that it’s typically a love of nature that leads us all to plant parenthood. We want to feel calm again. We are starved for real connection. We want to nurture some greenery that can ultimately make the world a healthier place. We used to be able to walk out our front door and do just that. But urban sprawl and long hours at our day jobs mean that our interactions with nature are sometimes few and far between. This is why houseplants are the perfect hobby: a little bit of nature, right inside our homes. We water them and fertilize them and place them in a bright spot. In return, they clean our air and bring us calm.
But just a few weeks after bringing my first plant home, I started realizing that the houseplant business isn’t always looking out for Mother Nature. As with any industry, it’s up to the consumer to make sure that we’re doing our research. I’ve spent some time this year learning how I can do better as a plant parent--and I was surprised (and then again, not surprised) by some of what I learned. So this is what has led me to my latest series of posts: taking responsibility as a consumer for my impact (good or bad) on our planet.
The first and most obvious point to tackle is plant packaging. Whether you order online from a nursery that ships plants directly to your home, or buy at a brick and mortar, knowing a company’s policy on packaging is important. Even when you buy fresh cut flowers, there is a vast array of packaging options that varies from one shop to the next. You can check a business’ website to see whether it offers information on their packaging. Swapping plastic bubble wrap or cellophane for craft paper is one simple way that online nurseries and greenhouses can reduce their carbon footprint. But even then, some of the most common packaging products used in the industry are wreaking havoc on our efforts to reduce single-use plastics.
One and Done
So many of the plants we buy come housed in black plastic, single-use nursery pots. It is the most common way to package plants, regardless of their size. Unfortunately, many cities won’t accept them in your recycle bin, and that creates a whole lot of waste. To mitigate the problem, first check to see if your municipality accepts plastic plant pots for recycling. If so, rinse well and recycle away!
Sometimes however, it is the ink added to black pots specifically that makes them ineligible for recycling programs. The technology that’s used at the sorting facility can’t recognize the black colour, so the nursery pots aren’t recognized as recyclable. If this is the case where you live, it’s a great idea to think twice before buying a plant in a black plastic pot. Purchase from nurseries that don’t use these particular pots, or look for creative ways to reuse them (like seedlings for your summer garden). Most importantly: ask questions! Some nurseries might be willing to take back the pots for reuse. Some big box stores have programs that accept returns of black plastic pots, too. Ask around, because even if the answer is no, you might give the business something to think about.
When it comes to plant products, like fertilizers, choose a company that packages in glass rather than plastics. Glass is much more widely accepted by recycling programs than plastics, and you’re more likely to reuse the packaging yourself if it’s sturdy enough to stand the test of time. When looking for plant products, it’s even better if a product comes in bulk or large sizes. This way, you know your product will last longer, and you can refill your cute little glass bottles for display.
So, there you have it. My first attempt to dip my toes into sustainable plant practices. I’m looking forward to digging into parts 2 and 3 of this series. As a hint, we’ll be learning about acquiring plants in a sustainable way, and ensuring that they are grown in a way that doesn’t have a lasting negative impact on our planet. Until then, I’m curious: how are you reducing your carbon footprint as a plant lover?