Reducing plastic in the garden

I’ve whinged about this multiple times, but I’m doing it again: weed matting in the garden does nothing. The people that landscaped our garden originally laid black plastic and weed matting before laying topsoil, and I’ve been either hitting the tough weed matting when trying to dig a hole, or pulling out chunks of black plastic ever since we bought this place and started building our garden.

Meanwhile, the weeds continue on their merry way.

Look at this bloody nuisance:

Pointless black plastic ruining my garden

I pull this junk out of my soil every time I try to plant anything. Not only does it achieve nothing at all, it pollutes the soil, and will be stuck on the planet for thousands of years.

If you are planning a new garden, I beg of you: do not lay this stuff. You will not have fewer weeds by laying weed mat. Most weeds are opportunistic, shallow rooted freeloaders. Their seeds float along in the wind or are spread by birds, and will root very easily in your topsoil. They do not care at all about a layer of weed matting.

In general, gardening can create quite a bit of plastic waste. Here are some ways to make it more sustainable and reduce single use and other plastics.

1. Consider packaging. Many common garden products come in plastic. For example, potting mix, manures, and fertilisers are all packaged in big plastic bags. I have recently switched from traditional potting and seed raising mix to coir bricks, which come in 9 and 15 litre compressed bricks in mulch, seed raising, and potting mix varieties. These are cheaper and much smaller in size (less than a tenth of the size) than potting mix bags, but when reconstituted in water, expand to similar volume as a 25 litre potting mix bag. Although they are still wrapped in plastic, it is a thinner clear plastic rather than the heavy thick plastic of the traditional products. Coir is also a sustainable product, as it is a by-product of coconut production. The plants are just as happy growing in coir as in potting mix, and I’m happier knowing I have created far less waste.

2. Plant seeds instead of seedlings. I try to raise seeds as often as possible, partly because it’s fun, but also because a paper packet of seeds has a lower carbon footprint than a plastic punnet of seedlings. I reuse my seedling trays over and over, whereas most punnets are single use only, as black plastic can’t be recycled. A single packet of seeds has potentially a thousand plants, while a punnet typically has four or six plants. Therefore a packet of seeds makes more sense financially, as well as environmentally.

Highly organised seed library

3. Reuse as much as possible. If I do buy seedlings, I reuse the seedling punnets for my own seedlings. I reuse all plastic pots. I cut up old milk bottles to make seed labels. I use old stockings and tights to tie up plants. To transport seedlings to friends, I use old pots or even recycled yoghurt containers. I save seeds in recycled jars.

4. Recycle wherever you can. While chemicals should not be thrown in recycling or the bin for obvious reasons, well washed containers can be (for example, seaweed extract bottles or other non-toxic products).

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