It’s hard to resist the call of the beautiful flowers, delicious berries and handsome trees gazing at you at your local nursery. They promise color and life, which can seem particularly appealing after a long winter.
When you get your plants home, some may go in the ground, but many will go into some kind of planting container. Window boxes, cement planters, terracotta pots, even old wooden wine barrels can be gorgeous additions to your yard.
But once all your plants are in place, you are left with the plastic pots used to transport your plants home. And although this is years away, you will eventually have to dispose of broken, rotted or dated planting containers as well.
Planting containers can be challenging to recycle because they are made with materials not typically recycled at the curb. But if you look hard enough, there are places you can take them for reuse or recycling. There are also options for buying planting containers made from recycled material.
What are planting containers made of?
The small plastic planting containers that hold everything from seedlings to trees are also known as nursery pots. They are made with a variety of different materials, including high-density polyethylene (also known as HDPE or by the recycling #2), polypropylene (also known as PP or recycling #5) or polystyrene (PS or recycling #6).
While some forms of HDPE are easy to recycle (specifically grocery bags and other types of plastic bags), most places will not allow you to mix planting containers in with other types of HDPE. PP and PS are generally much more difficult to recycle.
Decorative planting containers can be made from cement, ceramic, terracotta, glass, heavy-duty plastic and other types of materials. They may be plain, glazed or covered with decorations such as small mirrors or raffia.
How you recycle the different types of planting containers depends on their composition. We break them out by plastic, cement and other types. We also have several tips for reusing planting containers.
How to recycle plastic planting containers
Some curbside recycling programs accept plastic planting containers. In Portland, Oregon, residents can place pots in their bin as long as they are 4 inches or larger. Seattle’s curbside recycling provider recently started taking plastic planting containers as long as they do not contain soil or other debris.
However, curbside recycling programs that take planting containers are rare. You will likely need to look elsewhere in your community for a planting container recycler.
Start with your local recycling center. They often take many types of plastic not accepted at the curb. If you have a plastic recycling company in town, they may also be interested in old planting containers.
Check with any garden centers in your town to see if they accept plastic planting containers. Typically, they cannot reuse them because of the risk of spreading diseases. However, they may have a relationship with a company that can recycle the containers.
How to recycle cement planting containers
See if your local recycling center has the ability to recycle cement. If they do, it should be no problem to take empty cement planting containers to them. They will crush them along with all their other concrete and use the rubble for road underlay or other purposes.
If your cement planter is old and still in good shape, you might see if an antique store is interested in it. Vintage cement planters have become very trendy in recent years.
How to recycle terracotta or other planting containers
Planting containers made of terracotta, ceramic, glass, thick plastic or other materials probably cannot be recycled. Neither can containers heavily adorned with things such as tiles, mirrors or glass beads.
You may be able to break up the planting containers and use them in other ways. Small fragments of terracotta and ceramic can look nice in a garden path. Place some of the shards in the bottom of a new planting container to help improve drainage.
Plan to place any remaining pieces of these planting containers, or any whole containers you have no other use for, in the trash.
How to reuse planting containers
If you want to reuse planting containers instead of recycling them, you have several options. If you start seeds in small trays in the spring, keep some of those 2- or 3-inch planting containers around. They will come in handy when you are ready to transplant your starts into something bigger.
See if you can find a community organization that would like your planting containers. Your local extension office, a school with a garden program, a community garden or any organization that hosts an annual planting sale may be grateful to have free planting containers.
Buy recycled planting containers
product is one example of planting containers made with recycled materials. The Seattle-based company takes old water bottles and recycles them into 100 percent recycled planting containers. While the planters are not available to individual consumers, you can encourage any growers you know to use their products.
You can also craft your own planters from recycled materials. Create starter trays
for seeds using cardboard egg cartons or recycled paper. Transplant those little seedlings into old plastic yogurt and cottage cheese containers with holes punched in the bottom.
Once those plants are all grown up, put them in planting containers made with items salvaged from thrift stores and flea markets. There are plenty of ideas online for creating planting containers from old fishing boxes, tires, toilets, watering cans and much more. Upcycling these containers will add some vintage charm to your yard. It will also lower the amount of new material you have to buy.