Plastic pots: our policy

There's no getting away from it - the horticulture industry needs to do something about its reliance on plastic. Chew Valley Trees is keenly aware of the need to find solutions to the problem of plastic waste and we are doing everything we can at the nursery to minimise the amount of plastic we discard. In particular, we can't stand throwing away plastic pots (which we sent to a recycling facility), so we follow these principles to make the best use of this resource:

Re-using on the nusery

Producing trees involves a lot of potting-on (shifting trees into larger pots as they grow). This gives us a great opportunity to re-use pots as 5 litre trees are replanted into 15 litre pots and 15s into 30s and so on. Re-using pots is win-win as it means we have to buy in fewer new pots.

Using sturdy pots that last

Not all plastic pots are created equal. Flimsy pots don't stand the test of time and create more waste than necessary. All our larger trees are grown in thick-walled pots suitable for re-use numerous times. We rarely see cracks in our pots and only discard then if they are absolutely beyond use.

Allowing customers to return pots

The quality construction of our tree pots means they are eminently re-usable at home, but if you don't want to hang on to the pots that came with your trees, please return them to the nursery so we can use them again.

We also accept returns of smaller plant pots as long as you can provide your order number showing that they came from our nursery.

Avoiding pots, with bare root

Bare root trees, available from November-Marchm are dug up from the ground and sold straight to you, so plastic pots aren't involved.

Actively looking for practical alternatives

Using biodegradable materials is one way to keep plastic out of the waste stream, so replacing plastic pots with environmentally friendly alternatives is on our wishlist. Yes, some alternative materials are already on the market, for example you may have seen those hairy coir pots that eventually disintegrate into the soil. Unfortunately these aren't designed for long-term crops like trees as they often start to break down before a tree needs potting on.

We would be happy to hear from manufacturers with an innovation that suits our purpose. We need something that doesn't harbour pests and diseases, that neither breaks down too fast nor too slowly, nor has a high carbon footprint!

Hope on the horizon

There has been some progress in one area recently. Black plastic pots, usually made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or polypropylene (PP) are accepted by few local authorities for recycling and are problematic because of the carbon colourant, which prevents optical sorting technologiies from identifying the plastic. Contamination with soil also leads to pots being rejected by recycling facilities.

To tackle the colour problem, the RHS is now specifying taupe or blue pots from its suppliers. This sounds like good news, however these pots are currently about 25% more expensive to produce, recuding their commercial appeal, and don't necessarily keep plastic out of the waste stream (they're still plastic!). Meanwhile, and alternative black pigment, which allows dark plastic to be sorted in processing machines, is being used by some packaging manufacturers to make black plastic more widely acceptable by recyclers.

Other hope on the horizon for making use of plastic waste includes a new energy plant in Cheshire which will convert contaminated waste plastic into hydrogen. We've also heard of an innovative scheme in which old plant pots are re-used in 3D printing. What a great idea! Please get in touch if you have a use for our broken plastic pots.

While relevant technology and products are still under development, we will continue to use each pot for as long as we can, keep our waste to a minimum, and adopt practical ways to green our business wherever we can.

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