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Earth Cycle - Reducing plastic in your garden
17 Nov

Earth Cycle compost and soil products are derived from 100% green material. Each year we divert around 100,000 tonnes of green waste from landfill, putting it through a rigorous and highly controlled composting process over a 14-week cycle to create nutrient rich products for use on your garden. But when the waste arrives with us, primarily from green bin recycling schemes, you may be surprised to hear that it’s not entirely ‘green’.

As we covered in a previous post 'How Clean is Your Green' because they’re referred to as ‘garden’ bins, some people believe that anything garden-related can go in, rather than seeing it as a green waste bin – which is subtly different.  That means green bins often contains lots of other things including metal, garden furniture, fence posts and a fair bit of plastic. Thankfully it’s easy work for our machinery to sort and remove this but it’s a good example of just how much plastic is in our environment – and our gardens.

From pots to packaging and from tools to plant labels, there’s a wide variety of plastic that’s screened out of the soil on arrival with us. Perhaps because of what we see coming through the green bins and the piles we see coming out of the sorter, we’ve become far more aware of just how much plastic is around. It’s prompted us to go on something of a green clean ourselves in a bid to reduce the plastic content associated with our own products.

What have we been doing to reduce our plastic?

A huge amount of the plastic we extract is in the form of packaging and polybags - most commonly used for retail size compost bags; either whole bags or shredded elements. You can see it in these pictures below as it’s ejected from the screening machine. As noted above, these bags are probably finding their way into green bins because they’re deemed to be garden waste, or because once empty, they make handy receptacles for offcuts, twigs, or grass cuttings. Of course, some will find their way in purely accidentally. But of the plastic we extract, this is the most common or voluminous. So, this is where we started with our own efforts.

You’ll probably know of us because you’re buying or have purchased bulk bags from us. But like most other compost and soil providers, we also sell our product in smaller, retail bags – mainly through our retail partners. Previously we offered a lot more of our products in polybags, but in a bid to reduce plastic use, we analysed our sales and stopped selling many our products in this way, especially where bulk bags were the most popular method of purchase.

We’ve also started looking at replacing this traditional wrapper with something that either contains less plastic or is compostable. As you’ll appreciate, the contents of the bags and the need to store them for a period, makes this tricky. But we won’t give up and will keep looking at options.

We also took a long hard look at our bulk bags. For years, in a bid to preserve the product in transit, we used to place the bulk bag onto a pallet and then shrink wrap it with plastic. We felt this would help secure the bag on the move. But having run trials without the shrink wrap, we realised there was no impact on the quality of the product and the sheer weight and built in structure of the bag itself, contained the product inside without issue. So, we did away with the shrink wrap on all bulk bags. Whilst it was rare that we used anything different, we also made it policy to only use wooden pallets.

When looking at the bulk bags, we realised we also needed to put our ego to one side and took the decision to move to plain white bulk bags. Although it was great to have our name and web address on the bags, the inks and processes used to achieve this meant the bags couldn’t be recycled. By moving to plain white bags, they now can. Whilst it doesn’t remove the plastic element, it does mean that the bags are not going to landfill after use, so there is a long tail benefit.

So, we’ve started doing our bit to reduce the plastic we send you in a bid to reduce the amount that arrives back through green waste service or hits landfill, and we’ll keep doing more. But is there anything you can be doing too?

What can you do to reduce your plastic in the garden?

Our ‘How clean is your green’ article ends with advice to ask yourself that very question each time you’re popping something in your own green bin – and it’s a good starting point. But here are some more top tips for reducing plastic in the garden.

  • Avoid plastic plant labels – use wood, slate, or bamboo plant markers instead
  • Use natural plant ties – avoid using plastic cable ties to secure plants and choose raffia or string as an alternative.
  • Choose cardboard or wooden trays for seeds or plugs - start plants off in natural material trays until they’re ready to pot on or plant out. Did you know? One of the best ways to start leeks off is in old toilet rolls? Once they’re able to go into the ground just plant the entire tube, compost and leek and the cardboard will decompose. It also avoids disturbing the root system.
  • Choose hard-wearing wooden handle tools – check out our range of premium tools
  • Use bamboo canes or metal stakes to support plants – equally hard wearing and reusable as their plastic counterparts.
  • Use steel edging, timber, scaffold board or sleepers to edge laws and create raised beds.
  • Choose terracotta or stone pots over plastic – they’re often more attractive and provide better temperature and moisture control for plants. 
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