The modern horticultural industry, much like the rest of our society, has been built on plastic. Every spring gardeners are reminded of this when they step back to admire their perennials or vegetable patch but are left with a wide assortment of plastic pots and trays. While planting flowers, trees, shrubs and vegetables helps to green the natural environment and make our communities a more enjoyable place to live, gardeners are invariably left with having to dispose of what amounts to millions of pounds of plastic waste annually.
While Halton Region has recently launched a pilot-project to study whether or not their recycling system can accept plastic pots and trays, most municipal recycling programs can’t or won’t accept these plastics, meaning most of them end up in landfill.
Landscape Ontario is trying to change that trend and from June 25 to July 4, more than 40 garden centres in six provinces joined together for the organizations 2011 National Plastic Recycling Event.
The program started back in 2008 as a pilot-project involving six garden centres in Ontario with the goal of diverting plastic waste from landfill and into the hands of recyclers. It has grown considerably since then, and last year alone the program diverted 24 metric tons (53,000 pounds) of plastic.
During the pilot project, garden centres would travel to the Landscape Ontario offices in Milton to drop off their plastic to be recycled, but everyone involved quickly realized that wasn’t sustainable.
“With Landscape Ontario being the only recipient, well, what do the people in London, or Waterloo, or Ottawa or North Bay do? They can’t all drive down here,” said Lorrain Ivanoff of Landscape Ontario who started the project after seeing a similar project in St. Louis.
“This year I said we needed to get the garden centres and landscapers on board.”
The organization partnered with plastic recycling companies across Canada – Plastix Canada and Agricultural Plastic Recyclers in Ontario – to help facilitate the dropoff of plastics at local garden and landscaping centres by customers.
Plastix Ontario agreed to handle all of the waste collected in the GTA and the surrounding area, while Agricultural Plastic Recyclers agreed to cover the rest of the province. In total 25 garden centres across Ontario were involved in this year’s event.
In Waterloo Region, Waterloo Flowers in Breslau was the only garden centre that participated, and although it was their first year as a part of the project, the company has always taken an interest in ensuring their plastic waste gets recycled or reused in an environmentally sensitive way.
“In the past, we’ve had difficulty finding places that would actually take all of the plastics that we produce as waste materials from the greenhouse,” said Ron Miziolek of Waterloo Flowers about why they decided to join the recycling program this year.
“Landscape Ontario located Plastix Canada for us, who were willing to take virtually any greenhouse plastics, over and above pots.”
Waterloo Flowers also encourages customers – both retail and wholesale – to return empty pots and trays to them so they can be either disinfected and reused, or sent to a recycling facility.
Annually the company collects enough plastic waste to fill one-and-a-half tractor-trailers, said Miziolek, adding that it is “100 per cent critical” for the landscaping industry to take heed of where their waste is heading and to reduce the flow of trash to the landfill wherever possible.
Plastic waste can also include the roofing material used in the greenhouses, which wear out after about six years, and plastic piping as well, he said.
“As owners, we’re personally very into this environmental and recycling side of the industry, so we’ve done everything we have been able to with respect to reducing our use of fertilizers or chemicals by using biological controls for the insects and everything else over and above just the recycling efforts.”
Although the recycling program has officially ended, Miziolek said that Waterloo Flowers would continue to accept plastics for the duration of the season.
Given the growth of the program and its ongoing success, Ivanoff hopes to extend the nine-day event into a year-round program to some day divert almost all plastic garden waste from the trash, because until a viable alternative is found that can stand up to the rain and sun, such as pots made of rice hull or paper-fibres, plastic will continue to be the material of choice.
“The centres don’t make money out of this, that’s not the goal,” stressed Ivanoff. “The goal is to avoid having all this plastic in the landfills. We’re trying to do something for the planet.”