How To Have a Zero Waste Garden

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Gardening can be wasteful at times, what with all the cardboard and plastic packaging of planting materials. But being mindful of the quality and lifecycle of the purchases you make can minimize what winds up in the landfill.

Gardening — wonderful activity that it is — can be wasteful at times. Mulch and soil are sold in plastic bags, fertilizer in cardboard boxes, pest control materials come in plastic bottles and plants in flimsy black plastic buckets that usually get thrown out.

In fact, Americans send 2.89 pounds of trash on average into the landfill each day, according to an EPA study. While you may have heard of the anti-straw effort, it is a small part of a much larger “zero waste” movement to decrease the amount of trash going into the environment, cluttering our greenspaces.

To clarify, zero waste does not actually mean absolutely no trash. It’s an idea to work towards, not a true target. A more appropriate term would be “low waste” because it’s about avoiding packaging when you can and being more mindful of the quality and lifecycle of the purchases you make. Zero waste incorporates the five Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle.

So what can you do in your garden to decrease the waste you generate? Here’s a few ideas to help you get started.

Buy in bulk.

Skip the box store soil and find a retailer that sells loose bulk soil, compost, mulch and gravel. There are a few in town and buying bulk soil or compost is no more difficult than buying bagged materials. Simply line the bed of a truck with a tarp and they’ll use a forklift to load whatever you’re buying into your truck. The minimum will likely be ½ to 1 cubic yard (14-27 cubic feet) so be prepared to purchase all of your medium at once.

Choose to reuse!

While the thin, black plastic pots can absolutely be recycled, plastic can only be recycled so many times before it becomes unusable. Use your old pots to grow new plants from seed or call local nurseries or garden groups to ask if they can reuse them. On the flip side, if you need more pots to grow plants in, some nurseries sell their used pots. I’ve purchased used 15 gallon pots for as little as $5!

Buy used or pre-owned.

Shop resale stores or websites like Craigslist, eBay, Etsy or any of the popular resale apps for gardening tools that are better quality and repairable. Do your research first about specific models or brands that make high-quality tools. Items from pre-1970s tend to be better quality and are designed to not only last, but be repaired when they break. Moreover, by purchasing used items you prevent one more item from going into the waste stream.

Certain materials will be difficult or impossible to purchase in bulk or reuse. For example, even organic pest control solutions such as neem oil will come in a plastic bottle. That’s okay! Use these materials as needed and recycle containers when appropriate or dispose of them properly if they contain unsafe chemicals.

You can decrease your consumption beyond the garden, too. Carry a reusable water bottle, take your reusable shopping bags to the grocery store and compost your kitchen scraps. Check out how to get started with a zero waste lifestyle, or start small with changes in your garden.

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