Skip to main content

Become a Smarter Gardener in 2019: Recycling Plastic Pots

Photo: Gail Hudson, Extension Communications
In the normal spring plant purchases I do every year, I have collected about 15 different plastic pots that I want to recycle. My municipal curbside recycling company does not accept these pots for recycling. What to do?

Home Depot and Lowes both have garden pot recycling programs. This is smart. It gets me into their stores with my empty pots and it’s very likely I will buy more plants.  Home Depot stores across the country have been accepting and recycling plastic plant containers for the past decade.

Home Depot plastic pot recycling program

In a June 5, 2019 press release, the company says it is "moving toward a circular economy" with its recycling program. “Customers can bring back their empty pots for growers to refill. When the pots are no longer reusable, The Home Depot’s partner, East Jordan Plastics Inc., turns them into new pots, trays, and hanging baskets. Every year, East Jordan Plastics recycles more than 15 million pounds of used plastic containers, equivalent to nearly 1,000 semi-truck loads of containers."

“The Home Depot’s core values are based on doing the right thing, and this commitment extends to our communities and the environment.  We offer this service to our customers based on the environmental impact of plastic.  It’s just the right thing to do,” said Tiffany Seto, The Home Depot’s Manager for Environmental Sustainability.
Photo: Lowe's Companies

Lowes plastic pot recycling program

Lowes Home Stores will accept any and all plastic garden pots, including labels, for recycling. The stores also accept nursery trays and pots for recycling, as well as clean, empty mulch bags.

Lowe's Senior Merchant of Lawn and Garden Harry Barker says the company's vendors pick up the plastic pots from the stores and then recycle them through their plastic suppliers to be used again as plant pots.

 “We are excited to work with great suppliers that share our passion for conserving resources and protecting the environment.  With their help, we were able to capture over nine million pounds of plastic for reuse in 2018," said Chris Cassell, Director of Corporate Sustainability at Lowe’s.

The challenges for local garden centers

Recycling plastic garden pots is a complex issue. Most of our local garden centers will not take plastic pots because its too much trouble with a multitude of different plastics, some of which are NOT recyclable anywhere.

Otten Brothers will take 1 gallon and larger containers IF THEY WERE PURCHASED at their stores. I assume this means they will reuse these containers, which is great. Many other pots, especially ones labeled with specific plant names or brands, are just too difficult to reuse. Many recycling centers cannot deal with all the variables in horticultural pots and refuse these containers.

Bachman's continues to repurpose its own grower pots as often as possible, according to Karen Bachman Thull, Director of Marketing and Corporate Communications. She adds the company also sends semi-loads of plastic pots back to vendors to repurpose each growing season.

Past organized recycling efforts

Several years ago an effort was made with the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association to organize a hauler and provide several large recycling drop off locations such as  Bachman's and other garden centers around the metro and in other locations, such as Rochester and Duluth. This lasted for only a few years.

The project was not feasible, due to a lack of places to take the plastics and really recycle them. "Clearly there is work to be done in order to change behavior," said Thull.

Our industry is always looking to cut costs to continue to give you lower prices, and plastic pots are a large cost that they must deal with. You can always ask at your favorite garden center if they will take their pots back; each garden center sets their own policy.

As gardeners, we care about our landscapes and the earth. Recycling plastic pots is just one way to be a conscientious gardener.

For more information about Home Depot's plant pot recycling program, click here.

Lowes posted this article in April, 2019: "Are you a 'wishcycler'?"

Author: Mary H. Meyer, Extension Horticulturist and Professor 

Print Friendly and PDF