AUGUST 30, 2006
Earth Friendly Containers for a Sustainable World
Greetings from Portland Oregon. By the time you read this I will be back home at the nursery and gearing up for the Fall season. But if you remember from last week, I am currently at the largest horticultural trade show on the west coast looking at what the industry has to offer in the way of new products, groovy plants and interesting lectures. I can usually figure I am going to stumble onto one or two new and exciting things that I think have potential for next year.
After sorting through several bags of brochures and samples I am happy to say that I have found something that I think has huge potential for the environmentally conscience Puget Sound population. It is a container made exclusively from renewable resources that could easily replace all these damn plastic pots that are now rolling around the industry. Let me tell you more.
If you are a frequent visitor to our garden center you have probably noticed that across the street is a bin for recycling plastic pots. You canít begin to imagine how many pots end up in this bin in a yearís time. While I can only dream that all these pots originated from purchases from our nursery, the reality is that they are coming from Lowes, Home Depot, Wal Mart, other independent garden centers and some landscapers. Over the coarse of a season, we process in excess of 20,000 containers. The vast majority of these are returned to our suppliers along with a considerable amount of trash that we have to depose of. This isnít a money maker for us. To the contrary, by the time I spend the labor to sort out the pots, depose of the garbage and transport the containers to our growers I would be better off just buying the few thousand new pots that we need every year to produce our crops. But we recycle containers because it is a good service to our customers (and obviously other customers) and it seems like the environmentally responsible thing to do.
The problem with this scenario is that the whole nursery industry is locked into plastic pots which incase you didnít realize are a petroleum based product and we all know what is happening with oil. Itís not a pretty sight and I can guarantee it is only going to get worse. So, what are the alternatives?
Before plastic became so dominant, we used tin cans. I still own a ďpot cutterĒ that was used to cut the can so the customer could get the plant out when they got home. I shutter to think of the liability issues if we were still using these today. As an alternative to tin cans and later plastic, the paper industry came up with a pulp pot made from wood fibers. These are still used today for everything from large tree pots to hanging baskets. While they are relatively earth friendly, they only last a season so from a production standpoint they are not practical and from a consumer perspective they are butt ugly.
Now we have something new that is made completely from renewable sources, is durable and attractive and after five years or so can be thrown into the landfill and it will completely decompose. In fact, it is so earth friendly that I would propose that you could take this pot, put it in your food processor, grind it up and eat like you would a bowl of cereal. This pot is made of recycled grain husks, mostly from rice. It is bound together with corn starch and other natural bonding agents and then compressed under a gazillion pounds of pressure into various attractive forms. These new pots were the inspiration of a nursery owner in Southern California that no doubt was sick and tired of tripping over mountains of old plastic pots. I suppose we can give him credit for being environmentally responsible too.
This new pot is sold under the name of ECOFORMS. They have a website www.ecoforms.com where you can obtain more information and see some pictures of actual pots. They come in several earth colored tones and have a semi-glossy finish that doesnít look cheap like plastic. They currently produce a line for growers and a retail line for consumers. Of course they are more expensive than plastic but as the price of oil continues to rise that will be minimized.
So your assignment is to go to this website and look at these pots and then tell me whether or not you would purchase them. I personally love the concept but ultimately it is the consumer that dictates what we need to offer and what we donít. Please give me your thoughts.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at the nursery at 425-334-2002 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org